GRANTS, N.M. — The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has identified five “apparent violations” at a former uranium mill in western New Mexico that has been on the national list of cleanup priorities since the early 1980s
In a recent letter to Homestake Mining Co. of California, the commission said that it is considering escalated enforcement action, the Gallup Independent reports (https://goo.gl/54JWc1).
According to the commission, Homestake has performed groundwater corrective actions for 19 years without prior approval and has been inconsistent with the corrective action plan.
In 1998, Homestake was authorized to inject water treated by the reverse osmosis plant, or a combination of treated water and fresh water. However, the hazardous materials in the effluent water was required to meet the groundwater protection standards listed in the license.
The letter also cited a failure to obtain monthly composite samples and the discharge of liquids among the alleged violations.
But the commission stopped short of issuing a notice of violation because it hasn’t made its enforcement decision. It is offering the company 30 days to respond.
Jesse Toepfer, a closure manager for Homestake’s parent company, Barrick Gold Corporation, said the commission’s actions were “pre-decisional” so far. “I am unable to comment further until I know more,” Toepfer said.
After receiving a copy of the letter from the commission, Candace Head-Dylla, of Bluewater Valley Downstream Alliance, said she was pleased. “After years of feeling like NRC was actually in collusion with Homestake/Barrick Gold, to hear that they might even possibly issue a violation is a huge surprise and a welcome change,” Head-Dylla said
The site near Grants is a Superfund site. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has required remediation of groundwater contamination there since the 1970s.
In 1975, the EPA found elevated levels of pollutants in area wells and said the contamination came from the Homestake mill. Evidence of groundwater contamination was first observed in 1961, according to the EPA.
Under the terms of a 1983 agreement with the EPA, Homestake hooked up homes to alternate water supplies and paid for their water use until 1995.
Uranium milling operations at the site began in 1958 under a license issued by the Atomic Energy Commission.
The mill was decommissioned and demolished from 1993 to 1995.
Information from: Gallup Independent, http://www.gallupindependent.com