Solar panels OK at uranium waste site

Friday, June 24, 2011 1:25 PM

A U.S. Department of Energy study finds there would be no significant environmental impact from installing photovoltaic collectors where 2.5 million cubic yards of radioactive mill tailings are buried in Bodo Canyon.

The department issued its decision– a final environmental assessment – Friday.

Maximum development of a solar-energy system would encompass 21 acres of a site southwest of Durango where waste from a mill that processed uranium in Durango is buried. The mill operated for all but three years from 1942 to 1963.

A photovoltaic solar-energy system would generate 4.5 megawatts or more of electrical power, the agency said.

A 4.5-megawatt system would supply power for about 300 average homes.

Mark Schwantes, manager of corporate services at La Plata Electric Association, said in a statement:

“We have been following the effort since its inception and are in support of a community solar garden at the old tailings site.

“We have heard of interest from local solar installers and entrepreneurs who might take the lead on the project,” Schwantes said.

It’s too early to speculate on how a solar project would develop, Schwantes said. But ultimately, the cooperative would anticipate purchasing power from the developer, he said.

John Shaw of Durango-based Shaw Solar said the Department of Energy announcement is good news.

“We are definitely interested and would like to bid on the project,” Shaw said. “From a solar standpoint, it’s a great site.”

There is not much else that would be compatible with the site, Shaw said.

The Bodo Canyon site is located 3.5 miles southwest of Durango. It covers 120 acres, 42 acres of which constitute the burial cell.

The burial cell is 2,400 feet long and 1,300 feet wide. It’s covered with 7 feet of layered protective materials, including a radon membrane, a sand-filter drain, clay mat, rocks to protect against the invasion of vegetation and a rock/soil cap.

Construction was completed in 1991.

The Department of Energy intends to award a 20-year lease with one five-year option to a qualified lessee, the agency statement said.

More information

The final U.S. Department of Energy environmental assessment on placing a solar-energy project in Bodo Canyon where radioactive material is buried is available at