Desert spreads endlessly beyond the horizon, where crystalline azure meets rusted bronze. This is red rock country. Moab, Utah is known for its breathtaking scenery. Red rock arches, labyrinth-like canyons, the clever Colorado River. This paradise permeates the soul and the soil. But something else sleeps in the soil: uranium tailings.
Uranium was discovered near Moab in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t significantly mined until 1952 when Charlie Steen, a geologist, discovered large quantities of uranium in Lisbon Valley, south east of Moab. Enough Uranium was mined that a sign in town declared that Moab was “The Uranium Capitol of the World!”
While the Uranium mines no longer run, the history is visible. 16 million cubic yards of uranium tailings lie 3 miles north of Moab. Concerns over radioactive contamination of the Colorado River have made the removal of the tailings a priority among citizens and government officials. The tailings, which have squatted outside of Moab for decades, are now being evicted.
EnergySolutions will carry-out the removal of the 130 acres of unwanted tailings, moving them 30 miles north to a disposal facility near Crescent Junction, UT. Currently 80 containers per day of the 16 tons of uranium tailings are transported to the new site.
The several-year project contract was initially awarded to EnergySolutions in June of 2007 for $98.4 million. But yesterday, June 4, the project received a little boost. EnergySolutions announced that $84 million of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding has been allocated to the Moab UMTRA project to accelerate removal of uranium mill tailings away from the banks of the Colorado river. This additional funding will allow for 2 million extra tons to be disposed of by 2011, which will accelerate cleanup by several years.
“We appreciate the U.S. Department of Energy allocating funds from the Recovery Act to accelerate cleanup at Moab. This is great news for the community and for all who use the Colorado River and Lake Powell” said Steve Creamer, CEO and Chairman of EnergySolutions. “The funding will accelerate the protection of human health and the environment as well as create much-needed jobs for Moab residents. We look forward to working closely with the DOE as this project moves forward.”
Photo Credit: NewsRover via flickr under Creative Commons License