Feds coming to GJ tonight to discuss mercury plan

By GARY HARMON
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U.S. Department of Energy officials this evening will showcase how mercury could safely be stored in the desert south of Whitewater.

The scoping meeting at Two Rivers Convention Center comes against a backdrop of opposition by officials from several states against using their lands for storage of the element, which would be contained in solid-steel flasks inside a building.

Colorado officials have taken no position on the proposal by the DOE.

Mesa County also has taken no immediate position, but one of its commissioners, Janet Rowland, said she doesn’t want the material.

President Barack Obama as a senator sponsored the legislation that is spurring the effort to find a home for mercury “and he obviously didn’t put much thought into where

it should go,” Rowland said. “They should send it to (Washington) D.C., where all the other crap is.”

Rowland conceded her opposition wasn’t as reasoned as the rest of the commission, but “I’m just kind of sick of being dumped on.”

The other two commissioners took a more tactful tone.

“We’re not saying we’re for it and we’re not saying that we’re against it, either,”
Commissioner Craig Meis said Monday. “We’re just learning. We’re going at it with our eyes wide open.”

Officials at other locations listed as potential storage sites, however, have reacted strongly against the possibility of using their locations for storing the liquid metal, which Congress wants kept within the United States to keep it from being released into the environment.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter promised to oppose mercury storage at the Idaho National Laboratory and the Kansas City, Mo., City Council voted to oppose storing the material there.

Nevada officials also have raised concerns about storing as many as 17,000 tons of mercury at the Hawthorne Army Depot 130 miles southeast of Reno.

Other sites being considered are the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas.

Already about half the nation’s mercury is stored in Nevada, Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said federal officials told the commission in a briefing.

Grand Junction also might not make the first cut, so “it’s probably not worth the effort to get very excited at this point,” Acquafresca said.

The Department of Energy hopes to begin operations by 2013.

Storing mercury in the Grand Junction Disposal Site, 18 miles south of Grand Junction, would place it close to more than 150 federal and contractor employees working in the DOE’s Grand Junction Projects Office, which is involved with the management of 86 hazardous-materials sites in 28 states, including 11 in Colorado, the DOE said.

Former Grand Junction and Mesa County officials, however, have said that storing mercury at the disposal site would violate the agreement under which the Department of Energy buried 4.4 million cubic yards of uranium mill tailings at the disposal site.

The mercury storage building would be built on a corner of the disposal site and not interfere with the management of the mill-tailings storage.

In a memorandum of understanding with Mesa County, the DOE said it would consider disposing of only three types of radioactive material at the disposal site. The federal agency also said it was its intent to use the site “almost exclusively as a facility for the continued disposal of radioactive material from properties located within Mesa County.”

Disposing of any radioactive materials from outside the county would depend on the amount and whether burying it in the cell would limit the cell’s capacity for Mesa County mill tailings, the agreement says.

Mercury is used in gold mining and to manufacture materials such as chlorine and caustic soda. It’s reclaimed from recycling and waste recovery operations.

The Department of Energy now stores about 1,200 metric tons at the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee and the Department of Defense stores about 4,400 tons.

There could be a need to store as many as 10,000 additional metric tons of mercury over the next 40 years, the DOE says.

The scoping meeting is open to the public and will begin at 5:30 p.m. today and continue through 9:30 p.m. at Two Rivers Convention Center.


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