10/7/2011 Udall Holds Oversight Hearing on Federal Efforts to Clean Up Uranium Contamination Original Author: Democracy for New Mexico: U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Children’s Health and Environmental Responsibility, held an oversight hearing yesterday on the status of cleanup operations at legacy uranium mining and milling operations in New Mexico and elsewhere in the United States. Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) testified before the subcommittee about federal cleanup efforts.
During World War II and the Cold War, the federal government relied on extensive uranium prospecting and development throughout the country and especially in uranium-rich areas of the southwest. The uranium industry emerged overnight, at a time of minimal understanding or protection for individuals and the environment. The resulting radiological contamination created a legacy of sickness and pollution, a statement released about the hearing explained.
“The story of uranium development in the United States is a human story, and a tragic human story,” Udall said. “Even as the understanding of the dangers grew, the federal government failed to ensure that uranium workers and their families were safe from the hazards of exposure to radioactive materials.”
Navajo communities have seen some of the worst contamination. One of the most catastrophic examples, the collapse of the United Nuclear Corporation uranium mill tailings facility near Church Rock, NM, ranks as the largest accidental radiation release in U.S. history.
After Congressional hearings began to shine a light on the radiological contamination decades later, EPA, other agencies, and responsible private sector companies undertook the process of cleaning up thousands of abandoned uranium mines, and numerous mill and mine sites. Much work remains to be done.
Testimony: 3 Federal Officials
Udall questioned three key officials from different federal agencies about their commitment to continuing cleanup operations. All three pledged future support and acknowledged that significant work remains. Video of that questioning is available by clicking here.
“The Department of Energy established the Office of Legacy Management in 2003, with the express purpose of having a long-term, sustainable management of closed sites,” said David Geiser, director of DOE’s Office of Legacy Management. “So today we have 87 sites around the country that Legacy Management is responsible for…The Department set up the office explicitly for that long-term purpose.”
Udall stressed that each agency continue the ongoing cleanup projects and commit to providing necessary funding, especially for the Five-Year Plans for the Navajo Nation and the Grants Mining District.
“EPA has led the development and implementation of a coordinated federal plan to address the uranium legacy on the Navajo Nation,” said James Woolford, director of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation for the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “EPA maintains a strong partnership with the Navajo EPA, and, since 1994, EPA has provided technical assistance and funding to assess potentially contaminated sites and develop and implement response actions.”
Woolford reported that the EPA spends $12 million annually for cleanup efforts on the Navajo Nation, in addition to $4 million annually from DOE and a $5 million special appropriation for reclamation of a contaminated site near Tuba City, AZ. Udall commended the EPA for its recently announced plan to clean up the Northeast Church Rock site, the largest abandoned mine on the Navajo Nation and highest risk site in New Mexico, but sought further details on how that plan would be implemented.
Regulating Future Uranium Mining
The hearing also focused on proposed future uranium mining operations. Udall pressed the EPA and NRC, which jointly regulate these kinds of operations, to ensure that new uranium mining does not lead to future contamination. Many communities with legacy contamination are still waiting for cleanup while new mining is being proposed at, or near, the same sites.
“While cleanup is moving decades after the initial contamination, some of these communities are faced with new proposals to re-start uranium mining for energy purposes, opening up old wounds, and arousing new passions,” said Udall. Michael Weber, deputy executive director for the NRC’s Materials, Waste, Research, State, Tribal, and Compliance Programs addressed the regulation of new mining operations.
“The NRC’s comprehensive regulatory framework ensures safe operation and decommissioning of the existing facilities, as well as any planned facilities. The Agency’s standards conform to standards promulgated by EPA,” said Weber. “After a license is issued for a new uranium recovery facility, the NRC or Agreement State provides continued oversight of the operations through periodic licensing reviews, inspections, assessment, enforcement, and investigations.”
Concerns on Proposed Mine Near Crownpoint
Pressing the NRC on their commitment to ensure safe operation and decommissioning of existing and new uranium processing facilities, Udall raised concerns about a proposal for a new NRC-regulated mine near the community of Crownpoint. In response, the NRC testified that the “unique” requirements of the permit and the regulations in place would ensure a continued and safe drinking water supply for the community of Crownpoint should the proposed mining goes forward.
Udall urged federal agencies to prioritize existing cleanup operations and to continue to work together, coordinating with state and tribal governments, to assist communities that have been impacted by uranium contamination. In response, the three federal agencies committed to further public involvement as cleanup plans continue.
DOE: Techlines provide updates of specific interest to the fossil fuel community. Some Techlines may be issued by the Department of Energy Office of Public Affairs as agency news announcements: Projects Aimed at Advancing State-of-the-Art Carbon Capture from Coal Power Plants Selected for Further Development: Washington, D.C. — Four projects aimed at reducing the energy and cost penalties of advanced carbon capture systems applied to power plants have been selected for further development by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy (FE).
Valued at approximately $67 million (including $15 million in non-federal cost sharing) over four years, the overall goal of the research is to develop carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and separation technologies that can achieve at least 90 percent CO2 removal at no more than a 35 percent increase in the cost of electricity. This would represent a significant improvement over projected increases in electricity costs using existing technologies.
Advanced CO2 power plant capture systems are a key element in carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies, considered by some energy experts to be among the important options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with possible climate change. Existing carbon capture systems currently require large amounts of energy for their operation, resulting in decreased efficiency and reduced net power output when compared to plants without CCUS technology. These penalties can add as much as 80 percent to the cost of electricity for a new pulverized coal plant
Today’s selections focus on slipstream-scale development (0.5 to 5 MWe) and testing of advanced solvent-based post-combustion CO2 capture technologies. Post-combustion capture offers great near-term potential for reducing power sector CO2 emissions because it can be added to existing plants.
The projects, managed by FE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory include:
* Linde LLC (Murray Hill, New Jersey) – Slipstream Pilot Scale Demonstration of a Novel Amine-Based Post-Combustion Process Technology for CO2 Capture from Coal-Fired Power Plant Flue Gas
* The proposed project will use a post combustion capture technology incorporating BASF’s novel amine-based process at a 1 MWe equivalent slipstream pilot plant at the National Carbon Capture Center. This technology offers significant benefits as it aims to reduce the regeneration energy requirements using novel solvents that are stable under the coal-fired power plant feed gas conditions. The Department of Energy will contribute $15,000,000 to the project.
* Neumann Systems Group, Inc. (NSG) (Colorado Springs, CO) – Carbon Absorber Retrofit Equipment (CARE)
* This project, located at the Colorado Springs Drake #7 power plant, will design, construct, and test a patented NeuStreamTM absorber. The absorber will use nozzle technology proven during a recently completed 20 megawatt NeuStream-S flue gas desulfurization pilot project, and an advanced solvent that efficiently captures CO2. This absorber technology is applicable to a variety of solvents and can be added to existing pulverized coal power plants with reduced cost and footprint. Because of the modularity of the NeuStream technology, it can be rapidly scaled to larger size systems and retrofitted into existing plants with little risk. The Department of Energy will contribute $7,165,423 to the project.
* Southern Company (Atlanta, GA) – Development and Demonstration of Waste Heat Integration with Solvent Process for More Efficient CO2 Removal from Coal-Fired Flue Gas
* Southern Company will develop viable heat integration methods for the capture of CO2 produced from pulverized coal combustion using a waste heat recovery technology, High Efficiency System. This technology will be integrated into an existing 25 megawatt pilot amine-based CO2 capture process (KM-CDR) at Southern Company’s Plant Barry. Modeling by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America indicates that a fully heat integrated High Efficiency System will improve by 26 percent the thermal energy performance of the integrated KM-CDR and plant operation. The Department of Energy will contribute $15,000,000 to the project.
* University of Kentucky Research Foundation (Lexington, KY) – Application of a Heat Integrated Post-Combustion CO2 Capture System with Hitachi Advanced Solvent into Existing Coal-Fired Power Plant
* Researchers plan to use an innovative heat integration method that uses waste heat from a Hitachi H3-1 advanced solvent carbon capture system while improving steam turbine efficiency. The proposed process also implements a process concept (working with the heat integration method) that increases solvent capacity and capture rate in the CO2 scrubber.
* The novel concepts and advanced solvent used in this study will significantly improve the overall plant efficiency when integrated with CO2 capture systems, and can be applied to existing coal-fired power plants. The Department of Energy will contribute $14,502,144 to the project.
End of Techline
For more information, contact: Jenny Hakun, FE Office of Communications, 202-586-5616, email@example.com
7/26/2011 Lawsuit Prompts Full Environmental Review of Uranium Mining Threatening Dolores, San Miguel Rivers in Colorado Feds Still Refuse to Revoke Leases Awarded Under Flawed Analysis
7/26/2011 Center for Native Ecosystems and Center for Biological Diversity: “Lawsuit Prompts Full Environmental Review of Uranium Mining Threatening Dolores, San Miguel Rivers in Colorado: Feds Still Refuse to Revoke Leases Awarded Under Flawed Analysis”: Contacts: Josh Pollock, Center for Native Ecosystems, (303) 546-0214 x 2 and Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713 and Hilary White, Sheep Mountain Alliance, (970) 728-3729: DURANGO, Colo.— In response to a lawsuit from conservation groups, the Department of Energy has finally agreed to conduct a full, in-depth analysis of the environmental impacts of uranium mining and milling in southwestern Colorado. The environmental impact statement will examine the effects of DOE’s uranium-leasing program on 42 square miles of public land near the Dolores and San Miguel rivers.
In a lawsuit that’s still pending, the conservation groups challenged the Department’s current leasing program for not complying with the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act. Although DOE now concedes the need for a new and expanded environmental review, the Department continues to implement the program under the original flawed approval. In fact, it has awarded or renewed 31 leases for mining-related activities on 25,000 acres.
“The Department of Energy knows its previous environmental reviews fell short and yet leasing for uranium operations has moved forward. That badly flawed approach jeopardizes human health, wildlife and two of the West’s most precious rivers,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The feds’ refusal to revoke approvals and leases they’ve admitted are flawed is inherently dishonest and will keep everyone in court.”
Uranium mining and milling resulting from the lease program will deplete Colorado River basin water and threaten to pollute rivers with uranium, selenium, ammonia, arsenic, molybdenum, aluminum, barium, copper, iron, lead, manganese, vanadium and zinc. Selenium and arsenic contamination in the Colorado River basin from abandoned uranium-mining operations have been implicated in the decline of four endangered Colorado River fish species and may be impeding their recovery.
“Even small amounts of some of these pollutants, like selenium, can poison fish, accumulate in the food chain and cause deformities and reproductive problems for endangered fish, ducks, river otters and eagles,” said Josh Pollock of the Center for Native Ecosystems. “It is irresponsible for the Department of Energy to put fish and wildlife at risk by allowing uranium leases without adequate analysis of necessary protections to prevent pollution.”
“Combined with the activities in the DOE leasing tracts, the impacts of new mining on unpatented claims in the area and the proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill in Paradox Valley all add up to serious new concerns for water quality,” said Hilary White of the Sheep Mountain Alliance. “We have to understand and mitigate existing contamination problems in the area before the government allows new mining to ramp up.”
The Colorado Environmental Coalition, Information Network for Responsible Mining, Center for Native Ecosystems, Center for Biological Diversity and Sheep Mountain Alliance sued the Department of Energy and Bureau of Land Management in July 2008 for approving the program without analyzing the full environmental impacts from individual uranium-mining leases and for failing to ensure protection of threatened and endangered species prior to authorizing the program. The groups are represented by attorneys Travis Stills of the Energy Minerals Law Center and Jeff Parsons at the Western Mining Action Project.
DOE will take public comment on its new environmental impact statement until Sept. 9. Comments will also be accepted at public meetings Aug. 8-11 in Telluride, Naturita, San Juan County, Utah, and Montrose.