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Moffat County Morning News

Land use board hears concerns about uranium

Couple fears uranium mining and waste repository could have serious repercussions

By Will Fletcher
Morning News Staff Writer

Former Rocky Flats nuclear worker George Barrie had one bit of advice for the county land use board Monday evening regarding nuclear energy and its byproducts in Moffat County.

“It’s going to snowball on us,” said Barrie, who spent a decade at the former nuclear weapons processing plant in Colorado, and is now suffering form numerous side effects he said resulted from accidental plutonium poisoning.

With the nation now facing a crisis from decades of nuclear weapon and power production without a secure place to store the waste, Barrie said he fears plans by local real estate broker Jim Ross to construct a low-level radioactive waste repository on private land near Maybell will shift all eyes to Moffat County as a major dumping ground.

The recent purchase by Canadian-based Standard Uranium Inc. of more than 10,000 acres of uranium mineral rights in the county and speculation about the return of uranium mining have Barrie concerned that local residents will be exposed to the same hazards he faced in the nuclear industry.

“The workers at the dump and at the mine will be most affected,” said Barrie’s wife, Terry Barrie, a founder of the ant-nuclear citizens group Northwest Colorado Cares. “In retrospect, my husband would never have worked at the flats had he known what was involved.”

George Barrie seemed to agree.

“I’ve got things wrong with me that a 70-year-old has wrong with them. I don’t want to see our kids having it happen to them,” said the 49-year-old, who has suffered chronic ailments for the past 10 years. “This is really a very, very serious thing for all of us.”

The land use board is tasked with making recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners on a barrage of environmental and natural resources issues affecting the area.

Before any plans by Ross can proceed to construction, he would first have to acquire a conditional use permit, something the land use board would most likely weigh heavily.

No timeline for construction has been provided by Ross, nor has the county yet received any application regarding the project.

Officials with both the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Department of Energy have previously said a low-level radioactive waste repository in Moffat County is not necessary, and most likely out of Ross’s reach to construct.

Ross has made it a policy not to speak with the Moffat County Morning News, and little else has been revealed regarding his plans since he spoke with Northwest Colorado Cares in March. At that time he affirmed his intentions to move forward with the repository.

Terrie Barrie said such a lack of knowledge has caused her great concern.

“One thing that bothers me about Mr. Ross’s plans is the lack of details he has provided,” she said.

On Monday evening she offered her group’s blanket opposition to both mining and burial of radioactive materials in the county.

She said that even if Ross sticks with previous statements of bringing in and burying very low-level radioactive material, a serious hazard will be created for local residents, and especially workers at the site.

“The term ‘low-level radiation’ in my opinion makes it seem as if it’s safe,” Terrie Barrie said. “Statistics say that transportation of nuclear waste is safe, but there are accidents. Can you imagine a truck overturning on an icy road on Victory Way? I can.”

She added, “Trust me; there is a lot to be concerned about.”

The land use board did not discuss or debate Barrie’s statements Monday evening, but quickly moved on to other topics such as the greater sage grouse and oil and gas issues in Colorado.

Board members did inquire, however, whether workers at now defunct uranium mines in Moffat County or a former Union Carbide processing mill had ever been injured in the past.

Barrie said she’d research that and get the information to the board.