Uranium mill tailings removal pace gains steam
by Steve Kadel
staff writer
Jun 13, 2013 | 2236 views | 0 0 comments | 158 158 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Workers at the Moab UMTRA site north of Moab install a permanent liner in a shipping container used to transport contaminated uranium mill tailings for permanent disposal near Crescent Junction. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy
Workers at the Moab UMTRA site north of Moab install a permanent liner in a shipping container used to transport contaminated uranium mill tailings for permanent disposal near Crescent Junction. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy
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Removal of contaminated tailings from the former Atlas uranium mill site north of Moab has proceeded faster than anticipated this spring.

Lee Shenton, Grand County liaison to the Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action program, said during the May 28 Tailings Project Steering Committee meeting that 88,000 tons of material were shipped to the site near Crescent Junction in April, for disposal in a permanent storage cell. That number is up from the traditional average of 72,000 tons, he said.

New permanent liners that were installed this winter in the sealed containers used to transport the tailings by railroad from the former mill site to the disposal site near Crescent Junction account for much of the difference in efficiency, Shenton said. Workers used to have to install a temporary liner each time a container was used, and that process was more time consuming and often made emptying the containers at the disposal site more difficult, he said.

He explained that the trucks that dump the tailings at Crescent Junction used to make several accelerations and quick stops to dislodge the material from the containers. But the permanent liners, made of half-inch plastic, speed up the process.

The new liners allow the contaminated waste to slide out of the containers easily, which saves time, Shenton said.

The new process “is working like a champ,” he said.

The change will also cut costs of the removal project, according to Jeff Biagini, project manager for Idaho-based Portage Inc., which holds a five-year contract with the U.S. Department of Energy to do the work. He has said the permanent liners will pay for themselves in four years, saving about $3 million through the end of the project in 2025.

Shenton said during the meeting that a milestone of relocating 6 million tons of tailings would be reached soon. In all, more than 16 million tons of contaminated material must be removed from the Cold War-era mill site, located four miles north of Moab near the banks of the Colorado River. The project is 37 percent complete, he said.

“The morale of the guys out there is pretty good,” Shenton reported.

Monday through Thursday, one train per day transports tailings from Moab to the disposal site near Crescent Junction. Each train consists of up to 35 railroad cars carrying four containers each.

Staff members are at the former mill site seven days per week doing security and maintenance work.

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