Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

La Sal Uranium Mines Face New Scrutiny

Thanks to a citizen watchdog group, the owner of uranium mines on the south flanks of the La Sal Mountains, near Moab, will have to provide more data on potential environmental impacts.

The Beaver Shaft, Pandora, Snowball and La Sal are all mines that opened in the 1970s to provide uranium to the Moab mill. They are all connected by underground tunnels, and they were mostly shut down in the 1980s. The current owner, Energy Fuels, owns the White Mesa uranium mill, now also idled. The company wants to continue exploration and to move waste rock piles. The plans raised concerns from a group called Uranium Watch, along with Grand Canyon Trust, the Center for Biological Diversity and other green groups. Sarah Fields, the Moab-based director of Uranium Watch, said a chief concern is the town of La Sal.

“They have radon vents that emit radon within a quarter of a mile of the elementary school. So when the mines are operated, and the vents are going, it’s really noisy in La Sal. You get out of your car, or just driving by, you hear this background industrial noise.”

The US Forest Service has agreed that Energy Fuels must back up its claims that the mines pose no significant impact to human health and the environment. The BLM and the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining are also expected to weigh in. Fields said before this, there was very little oversight.

“This is the first time there’s really been public involvement in the decision making over these mines,” Fields said.

She said there are no standards or requirements for a radiological cleanup, so even if the mines stay idled, there will be no way to gauge the lingering effects of radon.

“A lot depends on the price of uranium, and also the price of vanadium, because they do get vanadium from the ore in La Sal,” Fields said.

Originally from Wyoming, Jon Kovash has practiced journalism throughout the intermountain west. He was editor of the student paper at Denver’s Metropolitan College and an early editor at the Aspen Daily News. He served as KOTO/Telluride’s news director for fifteen years, during which time he developed and produced Thin Air, an award-winning regional radio news magazine that ran on 20 community stations in the Four Corners states. In Utah his reports have been featured on KUER/SLC and KZMU/Moab. Kovash is a senior correspondent for Mountain Gazette and plays alto sax in “Moab’s largest garage band."