Canyon Uranium Mine

The Canyon Uranium Mine near Tusayan.

During the Flagstaff City Council's Oct. 10 meeting about the hauling of uranium ore through the city, many questions were raised about existing regulations that would apply to trucks hauling the ore from Canyon Mine south of Tusayan to White Mesa Mill in Blanding, Utah.

Here are answers to some of those questions: 

How must trucks hauling uranium ore be marked?

According to Curtis Moore, the spokesman for Canyon Mine owner Energy Fuels Resources, trucks that haul ore above 0.3 percent uranium oxide are required to have appropriate markings including “Radioactive LSA,” which stands for low-specific activity, and “For Radioactive Material Use Only."

The ore expected to be stockpiled and then hauled away from Canyon Mine is estimated to have an average uranium oxide content of 1.08 percent, according to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

What do laws say about how the uranium ore must be contained in trucks?

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has specific regulations for the hauling trucks that are tied to Canyon Mine’s air quality permit. Those require Energy Fuels to operate and maintain haul trucks in such a way that ore cannot escape through any slits or openings in the bed of the truck. The company is also required to cover the haul trucks with a tarp “so that haul road emissions will result exclusively from natural dust on the road surface.”

The tarp must be lapped over the sides of the haul truck bed at least 6 inches and secured every 4 feet with a tiedown rope.

As far as monitoring how fast haul trucks go, the company must install and operate electronic speed tracking devices and use the devices to continuously record haul truck speed “as practicable.”

Additionally, the company inspects tarps when they arrive at the ore processing mill and makes truckers replace any tarps that look worn, according to Donn Pillmore, the director of operations for Energy Fuels. The trucks are washed down before they leave the mill site as well, Pillmore said.

What route will the company take from mine to uranium mill?

Pillmore said the company has two authorized routes, including one that bypasses Flagstaff.

“Our preferred route that Energy Fuels has is to bypass Flagstaff,” Pillmore told the council last week. “We do want to keep the other route open if there is heavy snow it could close the other route down during the middle of the winter, but most of the time we would prefer to take the 180 and Babbitt road over to 89 as a preferred route.”

That isn’t what the company has told the Forest Service, though.

According to Kaibab National Forest spokeswoman Jackie Banks, Energy Fuels has advised the agency that the company will be using the haul route that follows Highway 64 south to Williams, Interstate 40 east to Flagstaff, Highway 89 north through Cameron to Highway 160 and through Tuba City to Highway 191. The final destination is the White Mesa Uranium Mill near Blanding, Utah.

In an email, Banks wrote that the company has decided against the other authorized haul route that Pillmore referred to, which would have taken trucks south on U.S. Highway 180 and on dirt roads across national forest, state and private lands north of the San Francisco Peaks to connect with Highway 89. That route would have required the company to negotiate necessary rights of way with the state and private landowners, according to environmental review documents.

What happens if there is a uranium ore spill?

At the council meeting, Pillmore said that in the case of a spill, the company is in charge of cleanup, but must also immediately report the spill to ADOT. The company has a hazardous materials clean up team based in Blanding, he said. Pillmore said the company has had one spill near Mexican Water since hauling began, and said it took about three hours to completely clean the area. If a spill were to happen in Flagstaff, Pillmore said it would take the company’s response team about three hours to reach the city.

Emery Cowan can be reached at (928) 556-2250 or ecowan@azdailysun.com

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Emery Cowan writes about science, health and the environment for the Arizona Daily Sun, covering everything from forest restoration to endangered species recovery efforts.

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