Feds: Move uranium tailings from Moab by rail

August 5, 2008 - Associated Press

By Mike Stark

SALT LAKE CITY - Most of the uranium tailings near Moab will be transported by rail to a disposal site about 30 miles away, the U.S. Department of Energy said Tuesday.
It will be safer to use railroad cars to transport the material rather than trucks, said Joann Wardrip, a spokeswoman for the agency in Washington, D.C.

Trucks will still be used to carry the biggest loads that won't fit in railroad containers.

The 16 million tons of tailings are being taken to Crescent Junction.

Rail line upgrades are expected to begin this fall and be finished by late spring 2009. The agency will be ready to begin shipping tailings within a month after that work is complete, Wardrip said.

Moab Mayor David Sakrison praised the decision, saying it addressed locals' concerns about shipping the tailings on the road.

"It's a cause for celebration, quite honestly," Sakrison said. "We're one step closer to getting this huge pile moved. It's going to be good for this community."

The tailings are leftovers from a former uranium milling facility about three miles northwest of Moab along the Colorado River.

The 130-acre site along U.S. Highway 191 leaches contaminants into the river, which provides water for millions of people downstream.

Crescent Junction is meant to be a safe long-term disposal site for the waste.

The biggest question, though, has been the best way to get it there.

At a community meeting in June, area residents spoke out against using trucks to transport the waste.

A DOE official at the meeting said trucking it would mean about 139 trips per day and an accident could stop the cleanup for months. That option would also require about $100 million to upgrade the highway.

Moving the waste by train would mean about one shipment per day with 178 railcars, the Energy Department said.

Wardrip said EnergySolutions, the contractor on the project, estimates trains would probably be running six days a week to meet a 2019 deadline.

Work is also moving ahead at Crescent Junction, including excavation for cells that will hold the tailings.

The goal is to have the Moab site cleaned up by 2028, but that could be 2019 if the money is available.