From Aspen Public Radio (Molly Marcello):
In a park, nestled in a red rock canyon outside Moab, Utah — a short drive from a giant pile of uranium tailings — a crowd gathered for a celebration. Elected officials and community members mingled, and enjoyed refreshments.
Volunteers placed pieces of yellow cake in small paper bowls.
It was a facetious nod to the gathering’s purpose: to celebrate the removal of 10 million tons of toxic uranium tailings from the banks of the Colorado River.
“You never would have thought you would have all these people congratulating themselves in the community on moving 10 million tons,” said Sarah Fields, executive director of the nonprofit Uranium Watch. “They seem to be really dedicated to getting this done.”
Before cleanup efforts began about 10 years ago, elevated levels of uranium and ammonia were showing up in the river’s water near Moab. The contamination alarmed officials downstream in Nevada and California, and they called for the Department of Energy to step in.
Getting the pile out of the floodplain became a community rallying cry as well, Fields said.
“The (Department of Energy) pretty much from the beginning realized that if they decided to leave it in place they would be standing alone because the town, the city, most of the members of the community, the state, the EPA all said, ‘Move the pile,’” Fields said.
Workers began moving the pile in 2009. The tailings are loaded into train cars, and sent 30 miles north where they’re stored away from the river in the middle of the desert. With the 10 millionth ton moved, more than 62% of the pile is gone, which means many Moabites could see completion in their lifetimes.