Contaminated 
ground water 
part of cleanup

The cleanup of a uranium mill-tailings pile along the Colorado River in Utah has removed 200 million gallons of contaminated groundwater as well, officials said.

In removing about one-third of the 16 million-ton pile, the Moab, Utah, uranium mill tailings removal project also extracted the contaminated groundwater. The groundwater contained more than 785,000 pounds of ammonia and 3,900 pounds of uranium.

The project in 2003 installed a collection system aimed at removing water from the pile using eight extraction wells.

The extracted groundwater is pumped to a lined four-acre pond on top of the tailings pile and sent to forced-air evaporators. The extraction system “efficiently and cost-effectively protects the river, which is a drinking-water source for millions of downstream users,” Donald Metzler, federal project director, said. “We intercepted it before it got to the river.”

The uranium is stored in the bottom of the evaporation pond, where it will remain unless he can find a market for it, Metzler said. If he can’t, it eventually will be buried in the disposal cell, Metzler said.

More than 38 percent of the tailings pile, which was left over from the Cold War, has been taken by rail to a disposal site below the Book Cliffs near Crescent Junction, 30 miles north of the river.

Removal of the entire pile and the contaminated groundwater is expected to be complete in 12 years.

High concentrations of ammonia can harm endangered fish in the Colorado River.

Project officials estimate that removal of the contaminated water from the 130-acre site has cost less than 10 cents per gallon of water removed.

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