Work to remove uranium waste in Utah picking up
October 7, 2009
SALT LAKE CITY – The job of moving 16 million tons of radioactive waste from the shores of the Colorado River in southern Utah is picking up steam.
Since this spring, more than 330,000 tons of uranium tailings have been hauled away from a huge pile near Moab and deposited in disposal pits 30 miles to the north, according to the U.S Department of Energy.
Crews began running two trainloads a day in August, doubling the amount of waste shipped to Crescent Junction each day.
The pace will pick up even more next month with longer trains and bigger containers, Donald Metzler, the project’s manager for DOE, said Wednesday.
The work is part of a $1 billion project to clear away a 130-acre heap of waste left behind after the closure of a uranium mill. Officials have long worried that flooding in the area could wash hazardous material into the Colorado River, which provides drinking water for millions of people downstream.
Crews began loading railroad cars in April and hauling the waste to a series of cells at Crescent Junction designed for long-term storage for hazardous waste.
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With this summer’s addition of a second trainload Monday through Friday, nearly 6,000 tons of tailings are being removed each day, Metzler said. The expansion was largely because of $108 million in federal stimulus funds announced for the project earlier this year.
Currently, each shipment includes 22 rail cars, each capable of holding four containers full of 32 tons of waste each.
Metzler is hoping longer trains and larger containers will help crews meet an aggressive schedule to finish the project by 2022. Completion could be moved up to 2019 with additional funds, Metzler said.
“We’re doing fine but we need to keep our production up. It’s really easy to fall behind,” Metzler said.
So far, there have been no major problems or injuries among the project’s 282 workers, he said.
There have been a few wrinkles, though, including finding ways to make sure containers are completely emptied after they arrive at Crescent Junction. Over the last few weeks, project officials have implemented a series of steps – including a slick liner for the containers – to make sure they dump 99 percent of the waste from each container into a cell.
Aside from hauling away sludge, the DOE said 47 truckloads of contaminated scrap metal totaling more than 1,000 tons have also been removed from the Moab site.
The waste is part of a Cold War legacy in Moab, where rich uranium deposits were mined during the 1950s for nuclear weapons. The Atlas Minerals Corp. bought the mill in 1962. It closed in 1984.