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Enforcement

Case Summary: Agreement Reached to Design Selected Remedy for Uranium Contaminated Mine Waste in New Mexico

Under an April 2015 administrative order on consent (AOC) with EPA Regions 6 and 9, the United Nuclear Corporation (UNC) and the General Electric Company (GE) have agreed to design the remedy selected by EPA for removal of uranium contaminated mine waste from the Northeast Church Rock Mine Site (“Mine Site”), located on Navajo Nation land, and for permanent disposal of the waste in a repository to be constructed at the nearby United Nuclear Corporation Mill Site (“UNC Mill Site”).

UNC and GE will also cover EPA’s past and future costs at the site, bringing the total value of the settlement to at least $11 million. No EPA costs were compromised in this settlement.

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Information about the Northeast Church Rock Mine Site and the UNC Mill Site

The Mine Site consists of a 125-acre former uranium mining area, an adjacent residential area, and additional adjacent areas used for mine operations and/or contaminated by mine-related materials. The mining operations consisted of two underground mine shafts, a series of vent holes, and support facilities.

The Mine Site contains radium-226 and other radionuclides in proximity to residences and ceremonial structures. Residents and visitors to the area are at risk due to the presence of these radioactive contaminants, which have been consolidated, but are not yet contained in a permanent repository. Inhalation and ingestion of the contaminants poses serious long-term health risks, including elevated cancer risk.

The mine was one of the sources of uranium ore processed at the nearby UNC Mill Site, owned and operated by UNC. UNC operated the Northeast Church Rock Mine from approximately 1967 to 1982 and currently owns the UNC Mill Site. UNC is a wholly owned indirect subsidiary corporation of the General Electric Company.

For the purposes of this response action, EPA has decided, under section 104(d)(4) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), to temporarily treat these related facilities (the Waste Consolidation Areas and the UNC Site Tailings Disposal Area) as one site. Once all the Mine Site waste is removed by the parties and disposed of at the UNC Site Tailings Disposal Area, the designation of these two areas as one facility will end.

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Summary of the Administrative Order on Consent

Under the settlement, UNC and GE have agreed to reimburse EPA for 100% of its past costs as well as EPA’s future costs related to the sites, through completion of the PRPs remedial design work. UNC and GE agree to design the remedy selected by U.S. EPA Regions 6 and 9 as outlined in an Action Memorandum dated September 2011 and in a Record of Decision dated March 2013. The remedy will address the uranium contaminated mine waste at the NECR Mine Site and build a permanent disposal repository at the UNC Mill Site to contain the waste. Prior to any construction, the design must be approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which co-regulates the UNC Mill Site, along with EPA Region 6.

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Contact Information

For information contact

Laurie Williams
Assistant Regional Counsel
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Region 9
75 Hawthorne St.
San Francisco, CA 94105
415-972-3867
Williams.laurie@epa.gov

or

James E. Costello
Assistant Regional Counsel
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Region 6
1445 Ross Avenue
Dallas, Texas 75202
214-665-8045
Costello.james@epa.gov

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