Tipton wants to extend life of radioactive-waste disposal site

A gate closes off access to the Grand Junction Disposal Site, formally known at Cheney Reservoir, just off of U.S. Highway 50 near Whitewater.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Grand Junction Disposal Cell near Whitewater would continue accepting low-level radioactive waste until 2048, under legislation proposed by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo.

The Mesa County Commission on Monday is scheduled to consider a resolution of support for Tipton’s measure.

The site is scheduled to close in 2023, but public health officials sought help to keep it open to accept uranium mill tailings from other Colorado sites in which uranium mills operated during the Cold War.

The Grand Junction site “is the only cell still open and receiving waste from the ongoing cleanup of uranium mill tailings,” said April Gil, a manager at the Grand Junction office of the Energy Department, adding that legislation “is important to ensure the continued safe disposal of the waste.”

Most of those sites have already been cleaned up, “but from time to time mill tailings will be uncovered during road construction and redevelopment programs,” Tipton said in a statement. “The repository in Grand Junction is the only DOE facility authorized to accept these mill tailings once they are discovered.”

The Energy Department completed what was known as the vicinity-property cleanup of structures contaminated with tailings in 1998, but the agency kept the disposal site open for material from other sites.

The Grand Junction cell receives approximately 2,700 cubic yards of waste annually from Grand Junction and Durango, as well as Monticello, Utah, and Tuba City, Arizona.

The cell was constructed in 1990 and now contains nearly 4.5 million cubic yards of the tailings, a low-level radioactive material that had been used in the construction of buildings, sidewalks, pipes and several other structures, including children’s play areas.

The cell has room for 235,000 cubic yards of waste.

The material was a fine sand left over from the process of milling uranium into yellowcake.

The disposal cell was built on an areas known as Cheney Reservoir, named for a Whitewater-area rancher and not for Richard B. Cheney, who was elected vice president in 2000.

There is no public access to the site about 18 miles southeast of Grand Junction.


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