A Colorado company agreed to a $7 million cleanup plan for Alaska’s only uranium mine, which has left radioactive waste in the Tongass National Forest.
Newmont Corporation is expected to fill the former Ross-Adams Mine in the Prince of Wales Island area, CoastAlaska reported Monday.
A plan has been in the works for decades to close and clean the open pit mine area on the slopes of Bokan Mountain at the head of Kendrick Bay.
The remote area is used by residents for fishing halibut and other activities, said Eric Rhodes of the Organized Village of Kasaan, who oversees the tribe’s efforts to reduce pollution.
“It is a highly used area and precious and protected for a reason,” Rhodes said.
The federal government commissioned aerial surveys in the 1950s to find uranium deposits throughout Alaska to fuel the nation’s atomic reactors and build nuclear weapons. The open pit mine was developed in 1957 and changed hands several times before closing permanently in 1971.
Some of the old equipment and structures need to be dismantled and transported off the island, said Linda Riddle of the U.S. Forest Service.
Most of the radioactive debris will be buried and covered with a geo-membrane, a heavy plastic covering to seal the site.
The deal reached by Newmont, one of the world’s largest mining companies, and the forest service in the past year calls for the estimated $7 million cleanup to fulfill the company’s final responsibilities at the site.
Newmont also agreed to monitor the site for three years after the cleanup effort is complete.
The deal waives more than $530,000 in costs the forest service said the agency incurred reaching the deal.
The state of Alaska identified the mine as a contaminated site more than 20 years ago, but interest in Bokan Mountain from another mining company has lent new urgency to the effort.
Ucore Rare Metals Inc. said the former open pit mine is about a mile (1.61 kilometers) from the area where the Canadian company is prospecting for rare metals and minerals used in products including smartphones and televisions.