A reach-stacker lifts a container full of uranium mill tailings off the train in Crescent Junction and puts it on a truck to take to the storage cell. The Moab UMTRA project reached a milestone last week of removing 7 million tons of tailings from the former mill site. The project is currently preparing to remove the largest remnants of the mill that have been found in the tailings pile. [Photo by Bethany Blitz / Moab Sun News]

The Grand County Council was expected to accept the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Annual Statement of Continued Compliance regarding Moab’s Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) project Tuesday, August 5.

“The County Council has never denied the Annual Statement and I don’t expect they will this time either,” UMTRA liaison Lee Shenton said. “One year they asked for additional information and the project team revised the Annual Statement accordingly.”

Grand County and the DOE have a Conditional Use Permit that includes an annual report on the UMTRA project from the DOE covering issues such as project status, jobs, environmental impacts, and future outlooks.

“Actually, the DOE is not required to abide by a local permit, but they do so voluntarily here,” Shenton said. “They recognize that a successful project includes a good relationship with the local citizens.”

The 2014 statement shared that 42 percent of the tailings pile has been removed. Early last week, after the statement was released, the Moab UMTRA project celebrated the milestone of removing 7 million tons of the tailings pile, almost 44 percent of the estimated 16 million tons it started out with.

“Meeting this milestone demonstrates our continued progress in moving the mill tailings away from the Colorado River for safe, permanent storage in the Crescent Junction disposal cell,” Moab Federal Project director Donald Metzler said.

The Project is currently preparing to ship pieces of the old mill that have been uncovered out to the Crescent Junction disposal site. The Project anticipates that most of the debris will be shipped out in the next two years. The pieces from the mill must be cut down to sizes that will fit into the shipping containers. The project anticipates that most of the debris will be shipped by rail like the rest of the tailings. Once in Crescent Junction, the debris must be carefully placed into the disposal cell so as to not create any air pockets that could lead to cracks in the cell. Air pockets allow for seepage, which can lead to the contamination of groundwater.

The UMTRA project has taken many precautions to prevent this from happening. First, the DOE chose the disposal site because it is on top of 2,000 feet of Mancos Shale (a self-sealing rock when moist) and there are no drainages nearby that lead to the Colorado River. Secondly, the project uses compaction methods, to assure there are no air pockets. And thirdly, there are standpipes that border the disposal cell that capture any seepage. To date, there has not been any seepage from the cell, DOE site facility representative, Ken Wethington said.

In terms of community and environmental impacts, the Project reports that “… public exposure to direct gamma, radon-222 or radio-particulates from the Moab site did not exceed DOE standards or guidelines … monitoring data at the Crescent Junction site indicated no measurable public impacts from the tailings disposal.”

Also, surface water-monitoring has shown no difference in the water quality between the water in the Colorado River upstream of the mill site and the water downstream of it.

The DOE also reports that there have not been any large fluctuations in project staff nor is it expecting any. It also reports “the Project achieved 2 million hours worked without a lost-time injury or illness … spanning over a period of four years.”

“Our safety record is what it is because these guys are so great,” Wethington said. “They look out for each other.”

Earlier this year Grand County and the City of Moab endorsed the Site Futures Committee, which is a committee tasked with deciding what do to with the mill site once the UMTRA project is completed. The committee is composed of representatives from the five government entities that have stakes in the outcome: Grand County, City of Moab, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Utah State Lands.

The Site Futures Committee collected public input as to what to do with the site after the tailings project is completed. Some of the suggestions include creating a community park, commercial and office spaces and parking facilities.

The projected completion date for the UMTRA project is 2025. Wethington commented that this was a best guess and project progress is dependent on funding and weather.

“One thing this project team has demonstrated is that they know what they are doing,” Shenton said. “And they do it well.”

“Our safety record is what it is because these guys are so great. They look out for each other.”

DOE submits annual statement of compliance to county