Nearly every uranium operation studied in this report had environmental and/or labor violations. The following case studies — taken from our publication, Nuclear Power’s Other Tragedy: Communities Living with Uranium Mining — highlight some of the most controversial uranium projects in the United States.
Power Resources Corporation, owned by Cameco, owns and operates the Smith Ranch and Highland ISL facilities in Converse County, Wyoming. Together, the facilities form the largest uranium production facility in the United States.
In 2006, Cameco Corporation received certification under the ISO 14001:2004 program, one of the most internationally recognized standards for environmental management. The certificate was awarded to Cameco for its excellence in environmental protection and implementation of “best practice” environmental management system at its Smith-Highland facilities.
Just over a year later, the Wyoming DEQ slammed Smith-Highland Ranch with several environmental violations.
- A DEQ investigation in the fall of 2007 revealed that the Smith-Highland ISL projects had “an inordinate” number of spills, leaks, and other releases. According to the WDEQ documents there were over 80 spills reported. Of the 202,247 gallons of mining fluid spilled, only 3,500 gallons were recovered.
- Other violations included delayed restoration of groundwater, “routine” spills, and a bond inadequate to cover restoration costs.
- Power Resources Corporation routinely violated DEQ laws directing underground water restoration to occur simultaneously with ongoing production.
- The cleanup efforts had suffered due to inadequate staffing, high turnover, and lack of corporate commitment.
In July 2008, Cameco agreed to pay a total of $1.4 million in fees to the WDEQ and state for the numerous violations.
The Smith-Highland Ranch is not only an example of the potential environmental hazards associated with ISL operations, but also the poor oversight of ISL projects in Wyoming. ISL production of uranium is the primary method of uranium extraction today, and the DEQ should have stronger oversight over these operations.