Oft-delayed tailings pile cleanup set for April 20

Officials are shooting for an April 20 starting date for the long-awaited cleanup of the Moab, Utah, mill-tailings pile.

U.S. Energy Department officials last week opened a 3,800-foot section of rail track they will use as a staging area for shipments of mill tailings from the pile to a disposal site to the north, near Crescent Junction.

A gantry crane capable of lifting 50 tons will pluck tailings-laden containers from trucks and place them on railroad cars on a ledge above the pile, which sits near the entrance to Arches National Park.

The Energy Department has a 2028 target date for completion of work moving the pile. The cost is estimated to run as high as $698 million.

Energy Solutions, a Salt Lake City-based company, was awarded the job to clean up the 16 million tons of uranium mill tailings, which were piled along the river during the Cold War effort to mine and mill uranium.

Officials from downstream states, notably the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, have pressed to have the pile moved from the north bank of the Colorado River.

To install the track for the staging area, federal officials worked with Intrepid Potash Co., which uses the track once a week to move its product.

“Our goal was to get them back on line as quickly as possible to minimize the disruption to their rail service, said Don Metzler, federal project director for the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action Project.

The Union Pacific Railroad had planned to replace the track, but allowed Energy Solutions to complete the project, pushing ahead the start date for the cleanup nearly a month to the projected date of April 20.


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