A powerful partnership among the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Legacy Management (LM), tribal governments and other agencies is focused on safety at former uranium mining sites, to guide the way to the future protection of human health and the environment across the west.
The (LM) Defense-Related Uranium Mine (DRUM) program has identified approximately 360 mines on the Navajo Nation and other tribal lands. DRUM is a partnership between DOE, federal land management agencies, state abandoned mine lands (AML) programs, and tribal governments to assess the potential risks of mines that provided uranium ore to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) for defense-related activities.
LM has already identified the tribal lands where defense-related uranium mines are found. The vast majority—96 percent—are on the Navajo Nation. The remaining fourteen mines are located on the lands of the Hualapai Tribe, the Pueblo of Laguna, the Pueblo of Zuni, the Spokane Tribe of Indians, the Tohono O'odham Nation, and the Ute Indian Tribe. DRUM will collaborate with tribal agencies to ensure their data objectives and DRUM procedures align as much as possible, and DRUM will share subsequent reports, data, and preliminary risk screenings with the tribal governments to help them make decisions about how to address mines that pose the greatest risks. “Our collaboration with the tribes is one of most important goals to the success of the work being done within the DRUM program,” notes Brent Lewis, LM DRUM Program Technical Lead and Project Manager.
DRUM does not have the authority to perform Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) activities but has the objective to assist in aligning its protocol to facilitate the identification of mines that could possibly warrant further CERCLA studies.
Anticipated to begin in FY 2023, DRUM’s fieldwork on tribal lands will focus on identifying abandoned uranium mines and the risks they pose, so tribes can prioritize safeguarding projects. DRUM is also coordinating with the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is currently working with the Navajo Nation, the Pueblo of Laguna, and Spokane Tribe of Indians to remediate uranium mines on their lands in accordance with CERCLA, commonly known as Superfund. DRUM will not duplicate EPA’s efforts on sites undergoing the CERCLA process or participate in remediation of any mines.
The road to DRUM assessing mines on tribal lands began in August 2014, when DOE submitted the Defense-Related Uranium Mines Report to Congress. The report estimated 4,225 mines provided uranium ore to the U.S. government between 1947 and 1970 for defense‐related purposes. It concluded that some of the mines might pose a risk to human health and the environment, but the scale of the problem remained unknown.
LM created DRUM to evaluate the abandoned uranium mines and fill in the knowledge gaps. DRUM looks at the potential risks to humans and the environment, with an emphasis on physical safety hazards. DRUM conducts verification and validation (V&V) screening activities on individual mines. DRUM does not have authority under CERCLA to conduct remediation, so the emphasis is on identifying physical safety hazards, providing risk-screening information to our partners, and working with our partners to safeguard hazards.
DRUM developed three campaigns to evaluate mines on public lands (Campaign 1), tribal lands (Campaign 2), and private lands (Campaign 3). V&V activities for Campaign 1 began in 2017.
Campaign 1 is estimated to include 2,362 mines. To date, 1,791 mines, or 76 percent, have V&V activities completed with most of these occurring in Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico.
As of December 2021, fewer than 600 mines remain in Campaign 1. Work will continue in areas of higher mine density in Colorado, Utah, and expand into South Dakota in FY 2022 and FY 2023. In FY 2023, V&V activities will be expanded to integrate field work on some tribal lands and include the more dispersed Campaign 1 mines in other states. Completion of Campaign 1 is scheduled for FY 2024. During this final year of Campaign 1, the synchronized scheduling and V&V efforts of Campaign 2 will greatly increase.
Collaborating with other federal and state abandoned mine agencies allowed the DRUM program to stand up quickly, while fine tuning methods and reporting products and capturing the needs of DRUM partner agencies. The DRUM program gained valuable experience from Campaign 1 that will be applied in working on tribal lands during Campaign 2.
Campaign 3 is estimated to involve approximately 670 mines on private property. As with previous campaigns, Campaign 3 will begin before Campaign 2 is completed. Campaign 3 is scheduled to start in FY 2024 and be completed in FY 2026. To learn more about the DRUM program, please visit /lm/defense-related-uranium-mines-program.