Dr. Ernest Moniz, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, submitted the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Defense-Related Uranium Mines Report to Congress on September 2, 2014. Section 3151 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 mandated that DOE, “... undertake a review of, and prepare a report on, abandoned uranium mines in the United States that provided uranium ore for atomic energy defense activities of the United States.” Submittal of the report to Congress, included the Senate and House Committees on Armed Services, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and the House Committee on Natural Resources. The report is available on the DOE Office of Legacy Management (LM) website at http://energy.gov/lm/downloads/defense-related-uranium-mines-reportcongress-august-2014.
A Collaborative Approach
To develop a comprehensive list of defense-related uranium mines and their conditions, LM used uranium purchasing records from the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and supplemented them with mine data offered by the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Geological Survey, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Contributing information also came from other sources, including state abandoned mine lands agencies and the Navajo Nation.
Mine-related information was shared with LM by supporting agencies through one-on-one discussions with subject matter experts, interagency meetings and teleconferences, and electronic correspondence. LM also reached out to state agencies at conferences held by the Interstate Mining Compact Commission and the National Association of Abandoned Mine Lands Programs. Public and private sector input was received during information exchange forums, such as the Uranium Contamination Stakeholder Workshop—held to address uranium contamination issues on the Navajo Nation—as well as by email, webinar, and the LM website.
AEC records offer the most reliable and comprehensive data on mines that provided uranium ore for defense-related purposes. The agency’s production tables list 4,140 mining records. As a result of reviewing other agency records, LM found that 85 additional mines may have provided ore for defense-related purposes. A total of 4,225 mines are thought to have provided uranium ore to AEC from 1947 to 1970, with more than 90 percent of those mines in Colorado (1,539), Utah (1,380), Wyoming (319), and New Mexico (247). Of the 75.9 million tons of ore produced, more than 35 million came from New Mexico mines, followed by mines in Colorado and Utah. Nearly half of the mines are on federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and approximately 11 percent are on tribal lands.
Most defense-related uranium mining was conducted under the General Mining Law of 1872, which did not require that mines undergo reclamation or remediation. Of the 4,225 mines identified in the report, only 15 percent were confirmed to have had some form of reclamation or remediation completed. For all receptors evaluated, radon proved the main contributor to radiological risk. Data suggests that mine reclamation helps mitigate radon and gamma emissions, and sealing adits and shafts (mine openings) can significantly reduce potential radiological exposure. However, the primary objective of actions such as sealing mine openings, historically, has been to eliminate physical hazards at abandoned mines. Until recently, the relative difficulty of measuring radon, compared to measuring gamma radiation, may have resulted in underestimating the radiological risks at some mines. Mine remediation is still needed in areas where residences might be built on, or in close proximity to, mine contamination.
|Number of mines and total uranium-ore production (in tons) by state.|
These and many other findings about defense-related uranium mines may be found in four technical topic reports documenting DOE’s review of abandoned uranium mines. The topic reports provide more detail on subjects such as the location of mines, their reclamation and remediation status, the potential cost of reclaiming and remediating different categories of mines, and the ways that different federal, state, and tribal agencies are prioritizing mines for cleanup; these can be downloaded from LM’s website at http://www.lm.doe.gov/default.aspx?id=10668.
DOE consulted with the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency on this report. Without the contributions from these agencies, as well as those from other federal agencies, affected states and tribes, and the interested public, the report could not have been successfully completed. Information on individual mines will continue to be added to DOE’s data collection as it becomes available.
For more information about the report, please visit the LM website at http://www.lm.doe.gov/aum/.
|Cleanup of Skyline Mine, Monument Valley, Utah.
Photo courtesy of U.S. EPA Region 9: www.epaosc.org/SkylineAUM.