From the Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):
This week marked the five year anniversary of when the U.S. Department of Energy began the $1 billion cleanup of the 16 million tons of tailings left over a legacy of uranium mining at the now defunct Atlas Mill.
The 130-acre site was leaching uranium and hazardous chemicals into the Colorado River, spurring contamination concerns for 30 million downstream users.
In 2009, an infusion of $108 million in federal stimulus money fast-tracked the project, accelerating the removal of the tailings to a disposal site 30 miles away at Crescent Junction.
“It is slowly getting there,” said project manager Don Metzler. “It is on track and we feel good about that.”
Metzler, whose supervision of the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action garnered national recognition in 2011, said the massive cleanup effort is now 42 percent complete.
“We have moved 6.7 million tons of the 16 million tons,” he said. “We still have a lot to go.”
The tailings are scooped and loaded into the beds of huge dump trucks and then poured into rail cars. A train leaves the site once a day, four days a week, traveling north to a specially-engineered disposal site at Crescent Junction.
Metzler said the annual funding of $35 million received a boost to $38 million, and the additional money will be used to further cover a section of the disposal cell.
“We do this in sequential steps. We are not going to wait until the entire project is over before we cover,” he said.
Clay and rock material has been put on 40 acres and another 10 acres or so will also receive a protective fill.
Metzler is also in the process of implementing a flood control plan.
With spring runoff in full swing, the Colorado River has risen 2 feet in the past few weeks, Metzler said, and it expected to crest its banks in another 30 to 40 days.
Protective berms have been engineered to keep the river water away from the radioactive dirt, he added, and the project will be doing community outreach to keep residents informed of flood threats.