Crews to Move 12 Million Tons of Radioactive Waste away from River in Utah
SALT LAKE CITY The Department of Energy plans to move a 12 million ton heap of radioactive waste away from the banks of the Colorado River, a major source of drinking water for about 25 million people, officials said Monday.
The mound is just 750 feet from the river in southeastern Utah. Environmentalists have long feared its contaminants are leaching into the soil and could eventually poison the water supplies of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and other cities.
"We have identified a solution that will help to ensure the environmental quality of the region for generations to come," Energy Department spokesman Mike Waldron said in announcing the plan Monday.
The radioactive waste is to be moved mostly by rail starting in 2007 to a proposed holding site near Crescent Junction, Utah, about 30 miles from the Colorado River. The cleanup and move have been estimated to cost more than $300 million.
The current site covers 130 acres near Moab and is the only decommissioned uranium mill overseen by the Energy Department that has yet to be cleaned up.
The waste began piling up in the 1950s as the Atomic Age created uranium mining boom towns in Utah. The government took control of the site in 2001 after the most recent owner, Denver-based Atlas Corp., declared bankruptcy in 1998. The 94-foot-tall pile remaining contains dirt, toxic chemicals and traces of radioactive substances.
The immediate concern is that the waste is seeping into the soil and groundwater, and working its way into the Colorado River, a concern that was heightened this winter by flooding in southern Utah.
"It was very much a real issue, and I'm very glad this chapter will be behind us," said Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. "We've had a convergence of lot of positive things here."
Environmentalists have argued that the contamination from the site is already killing fish in the river.
Critics of moving the waste argue that it has been there for decades with little effect.
Source: Associated Press