DOE sees way clear for mercury

No legal trouble seen with GJ storage option

Storing as many as 14,000 tons of mercury on a disposal site containing millions of tons of uranium mill tailings near Grand Junction is consistent with an agreement between the federal government and Mesa County, the U.S. Department of Energy says.

Mercury storage would be allowed even with a 1996 agreement that prohibits the storage of mill tailings from other locales at the Mesa County site, the Energy Department wrote in a letter to state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.

The Energy Department “believes that the designation of a mercury storage facility would not conflict with the operation of the disposal site as the mercury storage facility would be a completely separate operation,” Ines R. Tray, assistant secretary for environmental management, wrote to Penry.

The letter highlights the need for the Colorado congressional delegation to “step up and take our community off the table,” Penry said.

The Grand Junction site is one of seven around the country that are under study by the Energy Department for storage of as many as 14,000 tons of mercury over the next 40 years.

Legislation that started the process of selecting a storage site also precludes further storage at Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee, where much of the nation’s mercury is stored now.

The department is looking for a place to store mercury generated by industrial production in the United States. Export of the element is to be prohibited as of 2013 under legislation sponsored in 2008 by then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

The legislation was intended to stop the dispersion of mercury into the developing world from the industrialized United States.

It left “western Colorado holding the bag,” Penry said.

Gov. Bill Ritter and U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., have written to federal officials, opposing the storage of mercury in the state.

The subject, however, didn’t come up when President Obama visited Grand Junction in July, Salazar said.

Energy Department officials nominated the Grand Junction site for mercury storage because their office that operates the Grand Junction Disposal site has the necessary expertise for the job.

The 360-acre site includes a 98-acre disposal cell with about 4.4 million cubic yards of contaminated material.

Mercury would be stored in a single-level building on the site that would look like a Costco or similar structure, officials said. The liquid mercury would be kept in stainless steel flasks, which look much like heavy milk bottles.

The Energy Department anticipates completion of a draft environmental impact statement, which could identify a preferred disposal site, in November. A formal decision is to be reached in 2010.


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