Mill tailings cleanup near Moab is one-third complete

The removal of 16 million tons of mill tailings is nearly one-third of the way done, with the shipping of 5 million tons from the pile near Moab, Utah.

The pace of the cleanup, however, has slowed as money has tightened.

At its height, the cleanup was moving 10 trains of as many as 144 containers each week with as many as 400 employees, officials said. Each container holds some 40 cubic yards of tailings. The cleanup now is down to four trains a week with a workforce of about 150.

“We’re as lean as we can get,” Don Metzler, federal project director, said Tuesday.

Utah officials have sought to complete the cleanup up by 2019, but the lack of funding is slowing the cleanup, Metzler said.

The project involves moving tailings — the rock left after uranium milling — from a pile on the north side of the Colorado River to a disposal site 30 miles north at Crescent Junction, just north of Interstate 70.

As a recipient of funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the cleanup received a $108 million shot in the arm, which resulted in the removal of 2.6 million tons in relatively short order. That money, however, is gone, Metzler said.

A veteran of the cleanup of mill tailings in Grand Junction, Metzler said he has been looking for indications the collection of tailings is larger than estimated, as was the case in Grand Junction.

So far, there is no indication the pile is greater than 16 million tons, he said.


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