U.S. Water News Online
SALT LAKE CITY -- More than 12 million tons of radioactive
waste will be moved away from the Colorado River, which provides
drinking water for more than 25 million people across the West.
The Department of Energy said the radioactive tailings about 750
feet from the river near Moab in southeastern Utah will be moved,
predominantly by rail, to a proposed holding site at Crescent
Junction, Utah, about 30 miles from the Colorado River.
"The only way we can look at this is good news," said Energy
Department spokesman Mike Waldron. "We have identified a solution
that will help to ensure the environmental quality of the region for
generations to come."
The department's decision was announced in the final environmental
impact statement for the tailings site. It will become final after
being published in the Federal Register.
The 94-foot-tall waste pile came from Moab's rich uranium
deposits, which were mined in the 1950s for nuclear bombs. The
Uranium Reduction Co. sold its mill in 1962 to Atlas Corp., which ran
it sporadically until declaring bankruptcy in 1998. The Energy
Department took over the site in 2001.
"Taking all the facts into account, we believe the recommendations
issued today provide the best solution to cleaning up Moab and
protecting the river," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said in a
prepared statement. "The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the
The Energy Department "made the right decision to move this pile
to a safe location," said U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
The tailings are now mostly stored in the open air on bare ground,
surrounded only by a chain-link fence.
At the storage facility in Crescent Junction, the waste would be
covered and buried in a hole, lined with a protective layer to keep
the material from seeping into the groundwater. Cleanup and moving
the pile has been estimated to cost more than $300 million.
The waste began piling up in the 1950s after the dawn of the
Atomic Age turned sleepy communities in Utah into uranium mining boom
towns. The department took control of the site in 2001 after the most
recent owner of the mill, Denver-based Atlas Corp., declared
bankruptcy in 1998.
In November, the Energy Department outlined four options for the
site. Three of them called for moving the waste and burying it
anywhere from 17 to 85 miles away in a hole. Option No. 4, which
would have cost only half as much, called for leaving the pile in
place but covering it over with dirt and rocks.
Critics of moving the waste argued that it has been there for
decades with little effect. They contended the area is rich in
uranium, leading to natural erosion and leaching of radioactive
materials into the water, to which the waste added little.
But Gov. Jon Huntsman, Utah's congressional delegation, scores of
activists and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warned that
waste is too dangerous to leave it so close to the Colorado River.
The EPA in March told energy officials it would be
"environmentally unsatisfactory" to leave the waste near the river.
And Bodman assured Huntsman during a private meeting last month
the radioactive tailings pile on the Colorado River near Moab would
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