$120 million Uravan cleanup complete

The 20-year, $120 million cleanup of the old Uravan mill site along the San Miguel River in western Montrose County was completed Monday.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency certified completion of the cleanup and was preparing to hand over management of the site to the Department of Energy, said Rebecca Thomas, Uravan site manager for the EPA.

The cleanup eliminated threat to surface and groundwater from the 680-acre site that dates back to the beginning of the nuclear age.

The cleanup removed more than 13 million cubic yards of mill tailings, evaporation-pond precipitates, water-treatment sludge, contaminated soil and debris from more than 50 major mill structures on the site.

The wastes are contained in four on-site disposal cells, which also contain wastes from a nearby abandoned mill in Gateway and tailings from the Naturita mill site.

More than 380 million gallons of contaminated liquid were treated in the cleanup.

State and federal agencies worked with Umetco, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical, which operated the site since 1984.

Umetco cooperated with the cleanup and went the extra step of accepting additional wastes into the containment cells.

“We have a very cooperative relationship with Umetco,” said Jeff Deckler, remedial programs manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

In all, Umetco likely paid more than $120 million for the cleanup, but the full amount might never be known, Thomas said.

The evaporation ponds, once visible from Colorado Highway 141, no longer can be seen because of cleanup and revegetation, Deckler said.

Umetco has donated 140 acres and a building to the Rimrock Historical Society to house a museum about history of uranium mining and milling in the area, Thomas said.

Federal jurisdiction over the site will be transferred to the Energy Department, which will monitor the repositories and other aspects of the cleanup.

Even though the cleanup is done, the job of monitoring is not, Deckler said.

“We’ll keep watching that site pretty much forever,” he said.


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