More than 1 million tons of uranium mill tailings have been shipped from the old Atlas mill site north of Moab since rail shipments began on April 20, 2009, U.S. Department of Energy officials announced last week. The Atlas site contains 16 million tons of material that must be relocated to a final repository that has been constructed near Crescent Junction, about 30 miles north of Moab.
“DOE is thrilled to have reached this milestone in less than a year,” said the DOE’s Moab Federal Project Director Donald Metzler. “Consistently shipping maximum trainloads of 136 containers has definitely helped us hit the 1-million-ton mark,”
Federal economic stimulus funds paid for the relocation of nearly half of the mill tailings that have been moved so far, according to a news release from the DOE.
The stimulus funding also paid for construction of an underpass that allows trucks to haul the tailings underneath the Potash Road (state Route 279), eliminating the need for crossing guards to regulate traffic at the work site on SR 279. Stimulus funds also paid for additional containers and other equipment that have accelerated the official DOE project completion date from 2028 to 2025, according to DOE spokeswoman Wendee Ryan.
Despite that DOE’s projection that the project might now be completed three years earlier than projected, Utah Rep. Jim Matheson and Grand County Council member Bob Greenberg said this week that they stand behind a provision that Matheson inserted into a DOE funding bill that requires the project to be finished by 2019.
Greenberg said he and county council member Pat Holyoak are planning a trip to Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress for additional funding for the tailings relocation project. That funding will be necessary to keep the project on target for completion in 2019 when the federal stimulus funds run out on Sep. 30, 2011, Greenberg said.
“Overall the congressman feels very comfortable that the 2019 deadline is doable,” said Alyson Heyrend, Matheson’s communications director. His staff is now preparing for an appearance by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu before the Energy and Commerce Committee, she said.
Matheson, who is a member of that committee and the House Energy Subcommittee, plans to ask Chu if the Energy Department will allocate enough money to the Moab project to meet the 2019 deadline, Heyrend said. She praised the project’s efforts to achieve efficient use of taxpayer dollars, noting that should help keep the money flowing.
When the $108 million in stimulus funds runs out at the end of fiscal year 2011, the worst-case scenario would be that many of the workers at the project site would have to be laid off because the project would revert back to its “base funding” of $31 million per year, Metzler said.
About 330 people are now employed by the project. “We’ve shown value. What we’re trying to do is show we’re the most deserving” of similar clean-up projects competing for DOE uranium tailings clean-up funds. Metzler said.
“Safe/sustained production,” is how Metzler described efforts by management and workers to get the most out of the federal dollars allocated to the project. If they continue to succeed at that, and at keeping the workers and the public safe, the Moab project will do well in the competition for funding, Metzler said. -Times Independent