Nearly 6 million tons of tailings pile removed
The cleanup of 16 million tons of uranium mill tailings on the Colorado River near Moab is approaching the 6-million-ton mark.
Officials are pegging that milestone to occur about June 17, said Don Metzler, who manages the project for the U.S. Department of Energy.
Work on the cleanup of the Cold War-era pile on the west bank of the Colorado River north of Moab resumed this spring after a three-month curtailment tied to the lack of federal funding, during which 27 people were laid off.
All returned to their jobs, Metzler said.
Project managers used the downtime to improve the containers that are filled at the pile and taken by rail 30 miles north to Crescent Junction, where the tailings are being deposited in a cell at the base of the Bookcliffs.
Employees who remained on the job installed permanent rubberized liners in the containers, a job that required 65 steps per container, Metzler said.
The linings cost $1.5 million, but they’ll easily last for the life of the project, Metzler said, eliminating expenditures of $400,000 a year for temporary liners that fell short of expectations.
Tailings would frequently stick to the containers and would still be in the containers on the return trip from Crescent Junction and “I’d have to pay to ship it the second time,” Metzler said.
Now the project has “zero carryback,” Metzler said. “It’s actually going to save a lot of money over the life of the project. This one was just so perfect in every regard.”
Tailing shipments began in 2009 and the cleanup is scheduled to be complete by 2025.
The disposal cell is designed to blend in with the surrounding sandstone.
“We think that when it’s all done it’s going to blend in so well that you’re not going to notice anything,” Metzler said.