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Uranium: Haul it away, then bring it back?

Brief by Central Staff

Environment – April 2002 – Colorado Central Magazine

There was a time when they mined uranium hereabouts, and back in the late 1970s, when prices were high on account of energy shortages, there were substantial plans for big new uranium mines — one on the west side of Marshall Pass, and another northwest of Cañon City.

Those fell through when prices dropped (Three Mile Island was not a good development for the uranium industry), and now the process might be undergoing a reversal. Instead of removing radioactive rocks from the area, we might be acquiring them by the trainload.

Cotter Corp., which has a uranium mill in Cañon City, is preparing to receive and store about 450,000 tons of radioactive soil to be shipped by rail from a New Jersey Superfund site.

No plans have been filed with the state, but the company’s license does allow it to store such materials in a 60-acre impoundment on the Cañon City site.

The New Jersey soil is contaminated by radioactive thorium, but is less radioactive than the tailings already stored at the Cañon site, according to company officials. Stone & Webster Corp. received a cleaning contract from the Army Corps of Engineers, and Cotter is a subcontractor.

Cotter is also working to get the contract for taking 47,000 tons of radioactive tungsten from a Long Island Superfund site.

Last November, a federal judge awarded $43.3 million to 25 people who claimed that the Cotter site exposed them to radiation poisoning, and a month before that, a federal jury awarded $16 million to other plaintiffs who believed they had been exposed at the Cotter Mill.

Two years ago, Cotter was proposed as a place for the tailings from the Denver-area Shattuck site, once the home of a radium mill. Cañon residents fought it, and Gov. Bill Owens managed to block it.

Dan Slater, a Cañon attorney and Democratic candidate for state senate, said he hoped Owens would do the same thing this time around, since “It seems like Cotter has gone on a tour of the East Coast looking for waste.”