Mine's radition prompts closure

June 10, 2003 12:00 am

By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER

An abandoned mine and Superfund cleanup site in the Stanislaus National Forest's Summit Ranger District is emitting dangerous levels of radiation and has been closed.

Forest Service officials announced today that the Juniper Uranium Mine is emitting more radiation than previously thought, and they are blocking all access to the open pit near Sardine Meadow and Red Rock Creek. One-half mile of Red Rock Creek — a section near the old mine — is also contaminated and will be closed.

Forest officials today planned to close Forest Service Road 5N33, which leads to the mine site. They are also urging anyone who has spent much time at the site or nearby creek area to consult a doctor about radiation exposure. Radiation exposure can cause cancer.

Stanislaus spokesman Jerry Snyder said the site — two miles southwest of Kennedy Meadows — has often been used for target practice.

The 200-foot-wide and 50- to 75-foot-deep open pit sits at 8,500 feet elevation. The site has been inaccessible because of snow since late last year.

"The key is, now that it's become accessible, to secure it," Snyder said.

The mine was operational from 1956 to 1966 and produced approximately 500 tons of uranium ore. The ore was processed in Salt Lake City.

Although uranium forms naturally in the Sierra Nevada, waste left after mining can emit harmful levels of radiation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends people absorb no more than 15 mrem of radiation per year. This is on top of the 300 mrem most people are naturally exposed to.

An mrem is the measurement used for calculating amounts of radiation.

In the hottest spot tested, waste at the Juniper Uranium Mine site emits 11 mrem per hour.

An average chest X-ray emits 10 mrem.

Snyder said cleaning up the site will take about two years and $2 million dollars from the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

That cleanup work will involve putting all waste rock left over from the mining process back into the pit and burying it, Snyder said.

For more information on radiation, go to www.epa.gov/radiation, and for more information on the site, visit www.fs.fed.us/r5/stanislaus or call the supervisor's office at 532-3671.

Contact Genevieve Bookwalter at gbookwalter@ uniondemocrat.com.