Drilling rigs lay the framework for a well field Aug. 31, 2012, at Cameco’s Smith Ranch-Highland uranium operation near Glenrock.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has cleared Cameco Resources, which operates uranium facilities north of Glenrock, to resume transporting toxic sludge from Wyoming to Utah after mishandling during transport led to two incidents of leaking containers last year.

The Canadian company was ordered to end shipments in September of 2016 pending investigation, after employees at the disposal site in Utah noticed the leaks.

Cameco was not fined for its various violations, which included lack of appropriate testing on site in Wyoming, improper documentation of the hazardous contents to be shipped and unsuitable storage containers for holding barium sulfate sludge.

In a letter to Cameco’s president Brent Berg on Aug. 25, the NRC said the company had identified the root causes of the issues and addressed them. The company revised its methods for calculating radioactive content in the sludge and changed its transportation program, including proper handling and training, to avoid a reoccurrence of the various violations Cameco had made, the NRC wrote.

The company’s spokesman could not be reached for comment.

One issue that was also raised last year was the mistaken claim that an employee had falsified health surveys required after two other workers were potentially exposed to radioactive material. The falsified documents were uncovered more than three years ago, company officials told the Casper Star-Tribune in October. Federal regulators did a routine inspection in 2013, and then asked the company to do an internal review that unearthed the documents.

The NRC found the incident had not happened as officials initially supposed. An employee had failed to fill out the health surveys, rather than purposely faking the records, according to the NRC.

Cameco runs six uranium mines in Wyoming. Between its operations in the Cowboy State and Nebraska, Cameco mines about one quarter of U.S. uranium.

The industry has had a rocky few years as international prices slid. Cheap means of uranium mining in other parts of the world have strained U.S. producers. Decreased demand for enriched uranium used in nuclear plants has also hurt the industry in the years since the Fukushima disaster that hit Japan in 2011.

Companies in Wyoming say they are only producing enough uranium to fill their current contracts but have ceased expansion and cut workers in response to the downturn in the market. Some are hopeful of a turnabout in five-plus years as new power plants come online, increasing demand.

Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner


Star-Tribune reporter Heather Richards covers Wyoming's energy industry and related issues.

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