Moab mill tailings removal project at halfway point

A project to move and store a massive pile of uranium mill tailings along the Colorado River near Moab, Utah, has reached the halfway point.

The Department of Energy reported that 8 million tons of tailings have been moved from Moab and shipped 30 miles to a disposal site near Crescent Junction, Utah. That’s about half the estimated 16 million tons of tailings.

“The first train shipment was in April 2009. So in less than seven years, we have reached the halfway mark,” said Donald Metzler, federal project director.

Additional funding allocated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, accelerated the process, Metzler said. “ARRA definitely gave us a boost in shipping. But since then we have continued to make steady progress on safely moving the tailings away from the Colorado River.”

At of the end of December, site employees had worked 2.5 million hours without a work-related, lost-time injury or illness, as defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. This record was more than six years in the making since the last lost-time injury occurred in November 2009.

“Because we are a small site within the DOE complex, it takes a long time for us to work even a million hours. To reach 2.5 million hours without a lost-time injury is impressive by any standard,” said Jeff Biagini, remedial action contractor project manager.

The mill tailings are left over from a uranium ore processing facility. The tailings are transported by rail in sealed metal containers to Crescent Junction. The tailings are placed in a Nuclear Regulatory Commission-approved disposal cell near Crescent Junction and capped with a 9-foot-thick, multi-layered cover of native soils and rock.