Neal and Linden Blue, the La Jolla millionaires who own and operate General Atomics, makers of the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, have been getting a lot of good ink of late about their government-sponsored efforts to turn algae into jet fuel. But they also have a substantial interest in uranium: they own South Australia’s Beverley mine, one of the country’s biggest, and the investment has not been without controversy.
Last October, the Age newspaper of Melbourne reported that in the late 1990s the owners of the country’s biggest uranium mines, including General Atomics, retained a former Victoria police officer to infiltrate antinuclear and Aboriginal groups, as well as to provide security to General Atomics executives visiting the country.
More recently, the company has been getting a mixed response to its announcement on March 31 that it wants to reopen an old uranium mill in Cañon City, Colorado, owned by Cotter Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of General Atomics. “Cotter intends to refurbish the mill, taking the necessary steps to process ore from the Mount Taylor Mine located near Grants, New Mexico,” the firm said in a letter it sent to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The company, founded in 1956 and purchased by General Atomics in 2000, has long had a love-hate relationship with Cañon City residents. Twenty-four years ago, the plant was designated a federal Superfund site due to radioactive contamination in the air and groundwater in the vicinity. Cleanup work is now less than half complete. In October of last year, the federal Health and Human Services Department began a study of possible health effects caused by leakage from the plant. “We’re not saying these [potential health impacts] were caused by the contamination,” environmental scientist Teresa Foster told the Associated Press. “We’re not at the point where we can make that determination. We’re taking the community’s concerns very seriously.” Cañon City resident Marilou Thompson told the Cañon City Daily Record earlier this month, “I’ve never gotten anything from Cotter. People that worked there are the ones that have to worry.”
If the Blue brothers manage to get the mill up and running again, they stand to make a lot of money. The plant is one of only four in the United States that is set up to convert uranium ore into the yellowcake used in the final preparation of fuel for nuclear reactors and weapons. The only one of the mills currently operating is in Utah. Under the current plan, the ore would begin arriving at the mill by train in 2014. Before General Atomics came up with its latest proposal, it tried to turn the mill into a dumpsite for radioactive waste from a Superfund site in Maywood, New Jersey, and later from a uranium plant in Oklahoma. State regulators blocked both schemes.