Feds speeding up removal of Moab uranium tailings
July 30, 2009
SALT LAKE CITY – Work to remove 16 million tons of radioactive waste away from the tourist town of Moab is about to go a little faster.
The U.S. Department of Energy plans to double the amount of uranium tailings removed each day from the shores of the Colorado River.
Right now, rail cars haul about 2,800 tons of tailings a day to a dump site 30 miles away, where they’re placed in specially designed cells. A second train will be added in mid-August, according to Don Metzler, the DOE’s manager for the project.
Each shipment includes 22 rail cars – each capable of holding four containers full of 32 tons of waste each.
Metzler said additional rail cars and larger containers may also be added to each rail shipment later this year.
The waste is part of a Cold War legacy in Moab, where rich uranium deposits were mined during the 1950s for nuclear weapons. The uranium mill closed in 1984 but left behind a 130-acre heap of tailings on the banks of the Colorado River.
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Officials have long worried that flooding in the area could wash some of the hazardous material into the river, which provides drinking water for millions of people downstream.
Over the next decade or so, federal officials plan to move the waste north to Crescent Junction, an area away from the river where disposal pits have been dug.
Trains began transporting the waste in April as part of the $1 billion cleanup project. So far, more than 160,000 tons have been removed.
The rail shipments were originally scheduled for once a day Monday through Thursday.
In mid-June, shipments were expanded to include Fridays after $108 million in federal stimulus funds were announced for the project. The additional train shipment will mean one load will be transported in the morning and one in the evening.
Trains don’t run on Saturdays or Sundays to avoid conflicts with those who recreate in the area.
The infusion of stimulus cash accelerates the estimated completion date for the project, from 2028 to about 2022. Additional funds would make it more likely the work is done by 2019, Metzler said.
The project employs about 200 people.