RadWaste Monitor Vol. 14 No. 39
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RadWaste Monitor
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October 08, 2021

Church Rock Cleanup Meets Regs, NRC Says After Inspection

By Benjamin Weiss

Cleanup efforts at the site of one of the U.S.’s worst radiological releases is proceeding without issue, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said after a recent site inspection.

A Sep. 16 inspection of the former United Nuclear Corporation (UNC) Church Rock uranium mine concluded that the General Electric team tasked with dismantling the site is “conducting decommissioning activities in accordance with license and regulatory requirements,” according to a report sent to the company from NRC Thursday. Agency inspectors didn’t record any violations at the site.

Radioactive mill tailings from the former mine are being safely stored in disposal cells on site, the inspection found. Security measures like gates, signs and fences designed to restrict access to the tailings cells were also in good condition, the report said.

Meanwhile, NRC is weighing a license amendment for Church Rock that would allow transfer of radioactive material from the mine to a uranium mill tailings disposal site less than a mile away. NRC is accepting public comment on the proposed change through the end of the month.

In 1979, a dam breach at the McKinley County, N.M. mine caused 94 million gallons of radioactive slurry to flow into the nearby Puerco River. The level of radioactivity released into the environment at Church Rock was, according to one calculation, greater than the partial core meltdown that occurred at Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station the same year.

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