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0.23% uranium to 0.155%.
This decrease is roughly the inverse of the
amount of ore and tailings processed.
Therefore while the trend in ore
grade reduction is not a direct relationship because of in situ and
secondary extraction techniques, the result will be ever higher ratios
of tailings to yellow cake production.
In the 1966 to 1976 period, the
ratio of tailings to yellow cake increased by almost one third.
pected to double by 1985, the amount of tailings generated annually will
substantially more than double.
As if this radioactive waste problem is not alarming enough, I re
of the General Accounting Office's report to you
on June 20th of this year that the technology for controlling radioactive
releases form uranium mill tailings piles is not yet available.
in point is a 1977 EPA study which reported that radon release levels ac
tually increased at one inactive uranium mill tailings pile after it had
been stabilized with an earth cover.
The Interagency Review Group on Nuclear Waste Management mine and
mill tailings sub-group noted in its drait report that there are substantial
gaps in our knowledge of both uranium mill tailings characteristics and
The sub-group found seven major areas of research and
analysis of long-term disposal
and stabilization methods including the effectiveness of soil and clay covers
Lo reduce radon emissions; 2) methods and feasibility of extracting radionuclides
írom tailings piles; 3) analysis of the health impacts of radon daughters
which EPA is currently funding the National Academy of Science's BEIR
Commit lee lo invesligate; 4) dusimetry of ridon daughters and radon, which
IPA is currently funding the National Council
on Radiation Protection and
Measurements to develop; 5) development of models to explain the airborne
exposure pathway for radon and its daughter products; 6) development of
models to explain the liquid exposure pathway for disolved and eroded
radionuclides from uranium mines and mills, and 7) methods for measuring
the amounts of radon released from tailings piles.
The Environmental Protection Agency under RCRA and other complementary
authorities should be established as the major federal agency for the
regulation of radioactive mine and mill wastes for both uranium and
EPA authority should be preserved for both radiological
and non-radiological hazards.
Non-radiological hazards at uranium operations, for example, can be
Seepage or discharge from tailings ponds of highly acidic
(1.5 to 2.0 pH) or highly alkaline (9.5 to 11.0 pH) leach solutions from tailings
Such solutions are often.discharged to surface water or to ground
Processing solutions and tailings contain numerous extraction chemicals
and heavy metals found in the ore.
Uranium tailings may contain substatial
amounts of such heavy metals as barium, chromium, molybdenum, selenium, lead,
arsenic, vanadium, and zinc.
There are documented cases of non-radiological
contamination of surface and ground water in bothColorado and New Mexico.
1.11 these cases selenium from the ore and nitrates from the extraction process
were the major hazards.
In addition, aquifers in New Mexico were contaminated by
deep well injection of wastes.
I would like to note here that HR 13382 precludes regulation of non
radiological impacts at mill tailings sites in Agreement States.
however extends federal regulation to both non-- radiological and radiological
Mr. Chairman, uranium mill tailings should be treated as a special case
of radioactive mine and mill wastes because of their greater radiological
hazard and should be regulated as a condition of a uranium milling license
issued under NRC authority.
This should not preclude the EPA under its authority from establishing
criteria and standards for uranium mill lailings consistent with those it
promulgates for similar hazards from other radioactive ores and tailings.
The NRC would establish the site-specific requirements by which these standards
and criteria would be met.
The consistency of this approach for dealing with
this type of radioactive mine and mill waste was recognized in
tion bill on remedial action at inactive mill sites--HR12535.
NRC regulatory authority should be used to assure that uranium mills and
tailings disposal are planned, designed, operated to protect the public and
The NRC has already moved to establish controls over uranium
mill tailings at uranium mills under its licensing jurisdiction through its
National Environmental Policy Act authority to control environmental impacts.
While the NRC guidelines were drawn up and formalized as a regulatory branch
position on May 13, 1977, no tailings have been disposed of according to those
criteria nor do they extend to mills licensed by agreement states.
As HR 13382 and HR 13649 provide, NRC authority over mill tailings must be
extended to agreement states and minimum federal licensing standards must be
HR 13382 fails to provide the kinds of authority needed to insure
that uranium mills, beginning with the licensing process, leave the mill and
tailings with the least possible hazzard.
The bill only provides for federal
minimum standards for radiation protection.
It does not address the way those
standards are made, license conditions such as environmental reviews, rule making,
and public participation.
The bill maintains the disparity among the Federn?
and State licensing processes and the treatment of an identical public health
For example, environmental impact statements are required for uranium
licensing and environmental reviews, public notice, and public hearings.
NRC is also required to prepare an environmental impact statement for mills
on federal lands.
In addition, states have greatly differing standards for the regulation
of mining and mill wastes.
Arizona has no mined land reclamation act.
State Department of Health has authority over solid waste but its regulations
do not address mine or mill wastes and the Department has not attempted to
enforce regulations against mines or mills.
Arizona has recently passed
a law providing for state jurisdiction over uranium mill tailings and liability.
The law does not provide for regulation of disposal practices, environmental
review, review by any agency other than the State Atomic Energy Commission,
or public participation.
Colorado on the other hand, has jurisdiction over
mine and mill tailings under regulation by the State Board of Health.
regulations include design and operation of tailings piles as well as health,
water and air restrictions.
(See Rocky Mountain Law Institute, "Dumps and
Tailings", Reeves and Alfers, 23;419-549, 1977.)
HR 13649, as noted in the introduction, contains several significant
changes which address these problems.
The Environmental Policy Center supports
in substance the procedural licensing reforms provided in that bill.
At issue here, Mr. Chairman, is the establishment of a comprehensive
program to deal with a major health and environmental problem.
We do not
find that even when taken together the remedial and licensing bills before
you establish such a program.
Neither of the licensing bills, for example,
provide any guidance on the application of tailings disposal regulations
retroactively to existing mill tailings piles.
While the remedial legislation
addresses the problems of a number of inactive sites, these contain only
23 million tons of tailings which is 2 million tons less than presently
piled at the largest operating mill.
The inactive sites contain substantially
less than the 115 million tons at all presently licensed mill sites.
Retroactive application is very important lest we lose the protection of the public between the abandoned tailings and the future licensed piles In fact, there are cases where this will happen given the existing legislative
At the Edgemont, South Dakota site for example, the mill is
presently under license but inactive.
It is not covered in the remedial bill
and its treatment under the licensing bills is questionable.
A second case
is the Ray Point site which is not covered under either legislative solution
since it is inactive but did not sell under government contract, and is not
In addition, there are some thirty sites including Middlesex,
New Jersey where tailings were used in construction as well as the DOE-owned
mill at Monticello, Utah and Manhattan Project uranium wastes which are not
covered under the remedial legislation.
The DOE has argued that it is
acting "compassionately" and that when it decides what to do about the other
sites it will request additional authority.
Mr. Chairman, the difficulty
with compassionate responsibility is that it allows the good samaritan to
be compassionate at his convenience.