A million down, 15 million to go: tailings being taken off riverbank

Heavy equipment deposits the mill tailings from Moab near Crescent Junction.

The people cleaning up a uranium mill-tailings pile in Moab, Utah, are working on loading up their second million tons for the trip to Crescent Junction.

The shipment of the first million tons was completed Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Energy is moving a 16-million-ton pile of mill tailings from the north bank of the Colorado River near Moab by rail to Crescent Junction at the base of the Book Cliffs.

“We’ve still got a long ways to go,” project Director Don Metzler said.

The cleanup originally was scheduled to continue through 2028, but with money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the completion time moved closer to 2025.

By continuing to work on efficiencies, “We can even get a few years off that,” Metzler said.

The $1 billion project could come in under budget, too, Metzler said.

“If we can show safe, sustained production and demonstrate to Washington that this is a good investment, we can say, ‘Let’s get it done and get it over with,’ ” Metzler said.

The work force of 330 people, many of whom live in Grand Junction, is well-trained, safety-conscious and efficient, Metzler said.

“We want to keep that going,” he said.

Moving the mill-tailings pile, a remnant of the uranium production for the Cold War, from Moab began in June.

The cleanup operation runs 24 hours a day from the 130-acre pile near Moab to Crescent Junction, about 30 miles away. The project fills two trains of as many as 26 cars a day Monday through Friday.

Moving the pile was a high priority for downstream states Arizona, California and Nevada, which feared damage to the water quality from the mill-tailings pile.

Utah officials also wanted the pile moved so it wouldn’t detract from Moab’s reputation as a mecca for mountain biking, hiking and other outdoor pursuits in the nearby Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

EnergySolutions is the remedial action contractor and S&K Aerospace LLC is the technical assistance contractor to the cleanup.


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