UMTRA workers, contractors celebrate safety milestones
by Rudy Herndon
Staff Writer
Apr 03, 2014 | 3698 views | 0 0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Crews load uranium mill tailings into sealed hauling trucks at the Moab UMTRA work site north of Moab. Courtesy photo
Crews load uranium mill tailings into sealed hauling trucks at the Moab UMTRA work site north of Moab. Courtesy photo
Almost five years have gone by since Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) Project crews began to ship ton after ton of old mining waste away from the Colorado River.

The work is now more than 41 percent completed, yet even though the job involves a variety of daily challenges, employees at the site have now logged more than 2 million work hours without a single lost-time accident, officials said.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced last month that site employees have worked for more than four years without an incident.

“The number 1,584 may not mean much to most people, but for [Moab UMTRA workers], it represents the number of days without a work-related, lost-time injury or illness,” the DOE said in a March 12 statement.

Apart from that safety record, technical assistance contractor S&K Aerospace LLC has never had a lost-time incident since the DOE awarded its original project contract in June 2007.

To recognize both milestones, S&K and lead remedial action contractor Portage, Inc., recently hosted a celebration of the milestone.

According to the DOE, site employees received American National Standards Institute-approved orange t-shirts to wear as the weather warms up. Banners that celebrated the team’s safety record also went up at prominent locations around the site.

According to Grand County UMTRA Liaison Lee Shenton, the last accident at the site occurred in October 2009, when an employee broke a leg while he was lining containers. The incident led to a change in procedures, he said.

Shenton credits the UMTRA team’s performance in changing the public’s perceptions about the project, as well.

At the start of cleanup work, Shenton said he heard from numerous people who came forward to voice their concerns. But over the years, the number of visits from concerned citizens has dropped “way off,” he said March 18.

The pile of mining waste at the old Atlas Mill site is also getting smaller by the week.

The first shipment of tailings from the site to a long-term disposal cell near Crescent Junction began on April 20, 2009, and as of late February, crews had removed 6.5 million tons, or 41 percent of all tailings.

Crews have also extracted 205 million gallons of groundwater from the project area, and they’ve remediated 13 out of 15 properties in town that qualified for cleanup work, Shenton said.

In 2013, crews moved about 670,000 tons, and they’re aiming for a target of 900,000 tons during the current federal fiscal year, according to Shenton. They also hope to begin removing mill debris some time this year, Shenton said.

From now through late September, they’ll be able to continue their work without any fears of interruptions. The project budget for the current federal fiscal year totals $38 million, so there won’t be any further shutdowns in the coming months, Shenton said.

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