No Easy Options For Northeast Churchrock Mine Cleanup
By Kathy Helms
CHURCHROCK – Twenty-seven years ago United Nuclear Corp., a subsidiary of General Electric, stopped mining at the Northeast Churchrock Mine. Until an emergency soil removal action at nearby residents' homes in 2007 there had been no cleanup of legacy waste from the mine site, where radium-contaminated soils are about 400 times safe levels.
Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted a public meeting at Churchrock Chapter to respond to residents questions about an Engineering Evaluation and Cost Analysis, commonly referred to as the “EE/CA,” which lists five alternatives for cleaning up the waste.
EPA's preferred alternative, known as Alternative 5A, is to move the estimated 870,000 cubic yards of waste from the mine site and place it in a lined disposal cell on top of an unlined cell at the former UNC mill, a short distance away.
By disposing of the waste in this manner, responsibility for monitoring the disposal cell for leaks over the next 1,000 years would fall to the U.S. Department of Energy rather than to General Electric and EPA.
The alternative calls for cleaning up all soils to a level considered safe, or 2.24 picocuries per gram. It also calls for removal of all “principal threat waste” – mine waste soils with radium concentrations greater than 200 picocuries per gram or uranium content greater than 500 milligrams per kilogram.
Andrew Bain, remedial project manager for EPA's Superfund Division, told the audience that in some areas of the mine, the radium concentrations are 800 picocuries per gram.
“If it's that high, why did it take so long to get to this point?” asked Nadine Padilla, coordinator for the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment. Bain said one of the reasons is because it's a big site.
The 2007 emergency removal action addressed windblown waste around residents' homes on Red Water Pond Road. EPA now has begun a five-month, $5 million interim-removal action of 97,000 cubic yards of radium-contaminated soil at the homes, taking in the area just outside the 2007 footprint.
The 6,500 cubic yards of highly contaminated soils removed in 2007 went to U.S. Ecology in Grandview, Idaho, and it is anticipated that 10,000 cubic yards of principal threat waste from the mine cleanup also could be shipped there, or possibly even be reprocessed.
Bain said the federal agency will choose an alternative after the deadline for comment ends Sept. 9. “We've come up with what we think is the best plan, but we have not made the decision,” he said.
The Navajo Nation and community residents have asked that the waste be removed outside reservation boundaries, however, those comments have been met with numerous reasons why EPA doesn't think that's the best choice.
General Electric would pay $44.3 million for EPA's preferred alternative, compared to $293.6 million for the clean closure preferred by Navajo Nation EPA. GE announced first-quarter 2009 earnings from continuing operations of $2.8 billion, according to Bluewater Valley Downstream Alliance, which is supporting Navajo in its call for clean closure.
Stephen B. Etsitty, executive director for Navajo EPA, told Bain that his agency made a presentation in February to the EPA Superfund National Remedy Review Board. “We stated our position at that time, which was the position that we crafted prior to the 2007 emergency removal action at Red Water Pond Road and it's been consistent ever since then.
“It was articulated on July 16 by President (Joe) Shirley, where to the fullest extent possible, we're going to work toward our goal of having all these uranium-contaminated materials removed completely out of Navajo Indian Country. We've been pushing for option 2 in the beginning and that's our preferred option,” he said.
EPA put together a comparison of Alternative 2 and Alternative 5A when community residents at previous meetings voiced support for total removal, Bain said.
“In Alternative 2, all of those materials are taken to an off-site disposal facility many miles away. Alternative 5, they're taken about half a mile away but they're put in a covered, lined enclosure that would be equally protective. Alternative 2 would take nine years, we estimate, because the amount of material we're talking about – 870,000 cubic yards – is a significant amount of material.
“We did a calculation and figured that it's roughly 409 football fields a foot deep. It represents about 20,000 truckloads throughout the life of that cleanup that would all go down I-40 and eventually be hauled to disposal facilities out of the area.”
Bain did not say whether EPA had looked at disposing of the waste in-state and also did not mention whether EPA had looked at moving the waste by rail to cut down on truck emissions. The Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad line is about 11.5 miles from the mine site.
Alternative 5A would require more trips, Bain said, though he did not give a specific number, because smaller trucks would be used. Also, he said, “We think there is a reduced potential for accidents by hauling it less than a mile away. I want to point out that there are significant greenhouse emissions with taking these materials. It's about a 1,400 mile round-trip to the U.S. Ecology facility in Grandview, Idaho.”
Navajo Nation Resources Committee Chairman George Arthur has said repeatedly that if the federal government can move 16 million tons of uranium mill tailings away from the Colorado River near Moab, Utah, it can remove the contamination from Churchrock and the four uranium mill tailings sites on the Navajo Nation now monitored by U.S. Department of Energy's Legacy Management.
Though the intake for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project is expected to be upgradient of the Shiprock uranium mill tailings pile, the Shiprock site is known to be leaking into the San Juan River, water source for the Navajo-Gallup project.
In April, the first shipment of uranium mill tailings was moved from the Moab project site by train to a location 30 miles away in Crescent Junction for disposal. About 130 acres of the 439-acre site on the west bank of the Colorado River is covered by the tailings pile.
In June, EnergySolutions Inc. was awarded $84 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to accelerate removal. The company was awarded the initial contract of $98.4 million in June 2007. Currently, 80 containers per day are transported by rail to the disposal site. The stimulus funding will allow disposal of an additional 2 million tons by 2011.
Sofi Martinez of Southwest Research and Information Center told Bain that the Navajo Nation and the community have always stated they want off-site removal. “The carbon footprint doesn't seem to be as important when it's (waste) coming into New Mexico, but when it's going out of New Mexico, it becomes a real big issue.”
Yoshihiko Wada, Ph.D., a research associate with Gund Institute at the University of Vermont, asked Bain, “Have you taken into consideration the contamination going into the groundwater? Uranium-238, the half-life of that material is 4.5 billion years. How many times do you have to replace all these caps? Do you think the company would do the maintenance 1,000 years later?”
Bain said they have not done an investigation of the groundwater at the site and that the design life of the enclosed cell is a minimum 200 years, though it's engineered for a 1,000 year lifespan. “That's well below the 4.5 billion years of uranium ... but that's part of the ongoing operation and maintenance that would be required as part of the remedy. Periodically the company would have to come out and maintain the cap and make sure that it's not posing a release,” he said.
Information: www.epa.gov/region09/NECRSMSC Awards $320,000 To Support Abuse Victims
Submitted by Tessa Lehto
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Prior Lake, MN – Family violence is a problem in all communities, according to Robyn Trepanier, Executive Director of the Family Advocacy Center of Northern Minnesota. To help provide services to victims of family violence, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community recently donated $320,000 to the Family Advocacy Center of Northern Minnesota (FACNM) in Bemidji. The donation covers one year of costs not covered by insurance or other reimbursements.
In 2005, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians; North Country Health Services, a full-service hospital in Bemidji, Minnesota; MeritCare Clinic of Bemidji; Midwest Children's Resource Center of St. Paul, Minnesota; and others joined together to form a non-profit organization to develop and operate a medical-model family violence center to serve the needs of Northern Minnesota to aid victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault. The SMSC donated $200,000 to support the start up of the FACNM.
“Those who are most vulnerable need the support of an organization like the Family Advocacy Center. It can help them recover from devastating experiences and hopefully go on to live productive, happy lives,” said SMSC Chairman Stanley R. Crooks.
“Securing these funds means that the FACNM will be able to continue to provide compassionate, culturally sensitive care, empowering victims to help break the individual and generational cycle of abuse, which unfortunately is all too common in some of our communities. The FACNM is extremely grateful for the generosity of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and for their continued commitment to the work we do,” said Robyn Trepanier, FACNM Executive Director.
“As the Executive Director of FACNM, I have the opportunity almost daily to see the miraculous multidisciplinary team approach at work; the collaboration of professionals from different disciplines working towards the common goal of keeping victims safe. The FACNM makes a difference in the lives of victims,” she continued.
The FACNM serves all people in a 17-county region in Northwest Minnesota. This region includes the Red Lake, Leech Lake, and White Earth Reservations. The FACNM pays particular attention to the victims from the region's Native American communities by targeted outreach and by providing culturally sensitive services. This effort has earned the trust of members of those communities.
The FACNM is one of the very few centers in the nation to focus on the needs of Native American communities and upon their rural, non-Native neighbors. As such, this focus serves the unique needs of Northwest Minnesota.
Between January 1, 2006, and May 31, 2009, the FACNM treated 574 victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, acute sexual assault, and neglect. Of those victims, 43% are from the Red Lake, Leech Lake, and White Earth communities. And 20% of all victims were “walk ins” who self-referred to the Center rather than being brought in by emergency or medical personnel. Each year since 2006, the number of victims the Center has treated has grown by more than 30 percent.
The Center has the support of, among others, the Cass County Attorney's Office; Itasca County's Health and Welfare Department; the Bemidji Police Department; the US Attorney’s Office; the Itasca County Attorney’s Office; the Beltrami County Attorney’s Office; Red Lake Indian Health Services; Red Lake Children and Family Services; and the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office.
The medical-model FACNM is located at North Country Regional Hospital, a full- service hospital in Bemidji, Minnesota. Within the hospital, the Center is located near the emergency room facilities. Through the Center, professionals from a variety of disciplines will work together to address the immediate medical, psychological, social service, and law enforcement needs of family violence victims in Northern Minnesota.
At the Center, the medical and mental health conditions of victims are assessed, medical histories obtained, and appropriation referrals made for medical and mental health care. Center staff focus on the medical and medical-health needs of the victims while still providing law enforcement with the opportunity to gather evidence and conduct interviews. The primary focus of the Center's work is the physical and mental healing of the victim, empowering the victim to become a survivor, and helping break the cycle of violence.
The Center encompasses approximately 1,000 square feet and has one examination room, three offices, a conference room, and a reception/waiting room. The Clinicians and Medical Director respond when a victim arrives at the Center.
About the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux CommunityThe SMSC utilizes its financial resources from gaming and non-gaming enterprises to pay for all of the internal infrastructure of the Tribe, including but not limited to roads, water and sewer systems, emergency services, and essential services to its Tribal members in education, health, and welfare.
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community has a charitable giving program which comes from a cultural and social tradition to assist those in need. Over the past 12 years the SMSC has donated more than $162 million to charitable organizations and Indian Tribes, including more than $20 million in fiscal year 2009.
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