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Ute Mountain Utes plan protest walk at Utah uranium mill

About 50 people marched to the White Mesa uranium mill in southeast Utah as part of a protest rally Saturday.
Uranium mill in southeast Utah has a mix of supporters and detractors

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and environmental groups will host a protest and spiritual walk Oct. 22 at 11 a.m. at the White Mesa Community Center south of Blanding, Utah.

The annual rally is held in opposition to Energy Fuel’s White Mesa Uranium mill, which sits just outside the boundaries of the Ute Mountain Ute reservation in southeast Utah.

Participants walk 3 miles on U.S. Highway 191 from the community center to the entrance to the mill. Shuttles and support are provided. Law enforcement officers assist with traffic safety.

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The mill is the only conventional uranium mill operating in the U.S. and has had a mix of supporters and detractors over its lifetime.

The tribe has long opposed the mill, citing concerns about water and air quality. Blanding and Monticello support the mill for its jobs and tax revenues.

The mill, owned by Energy Fuels, has defended its operations as environmentally safe and an economic driver for the region that provides jobs.

Rare earth elements are loaded into a truck for export from the White Mesa Mill in southeast Utah. Energy Fuels has begun processing ore to extract minerals used in electronics. (Courtesy Energy Fuels)

Energy Fuels recently expanded operations to process rare earths essential for manufacturing technical devices and electric car batteries. It also receives radioactive wastes from cleanup sites in the U.S. and other countries. The processed uranium is used for fuel rods in nuclear power plants.

In April the EPA took action against the mill for draining a water cover on a waste containment pond the agency said is required. The mill agreed to refill it. In July, another waste containment cell containing uranium tailings was shown to be losing its water cover.

The Clean Air Act requires a water cover on containment cells with solid uranium tailings to prevent cancer-causing radon emissions.