Utah has temporarily refused to accept the remaining portion of 6,000 tons of radioactive sludge produced by an Albany rare metals company, officials said.
Teledyne Wah Chang-Albany Corp. agreed to suspend its shipments of uranium-laden sludge for recycling at the White Mesa uranium mill in Blanding, Utah, according to Larry F. Anderson, director of the Utah Bureau of Radiation Control."We want to be certain the mill is not being turned into an unlicensed waste repository," Anderson said.
However, spokesmen for the mill, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Wah Chang all said the sludge is not waste, but a "feed source" for reclaiming uranium.
"It contains an economical ratio of uranium and will greatly enhance our chance of staying in business," said Wallace Bryce, maintenance superintendent at White Mesa.
The mill, owned by Umetco Mineral Corp., extracts uranium from the sludge created as a byproduct of Wah Chang's zirconium manufacturing process.
Zirconium is a rare metal that is highly resistant to corrosion and is used by the nuclear, aerospace and defense industries.
Jim Denham, a Wah Chang spokesman, said his company started selling the sludge to the Utah mill at the suggestion of an Oregon Health Division radiation expert who had heard the Utah company could recycle uranium.
"It was a perfect match for us," Denham said. "We don't need uranium and they do."
Ray Parris, chief of the Health Division's radiation section, said it was not unusual for his staff to make such suggestions.
He added that shipments already sent to Utah were made "under licensed conditions" that met state and federal safety standards. Wah Chang had shipped about 1,500 tons since December.