Morning Briefing - April 08, 2020
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April 08, 2020

Moab Tailings Cleanup Continues During COVID-19 Crisis

By ExchangeMonitor

The Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remediation Action (UMTRA) project in Utah as of Tuesday was the sole Energy Department Office of Environmental Management nuclear cleanup site maintaining normal operations during the COVID-19 crisis.

The project’s two work sites are “fully operational” while following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to minimize the risk of infection from novel coronavirus 2019, a DOE spokesperson said by email. Measures include social distancing, greater cleaning of facilities, and fewer in-person meetings.

Continued operation is possible in part because many of Moab’s 140 employees are heavy equipment operators “who are isolated and have limited contact with others,” the spokesperson said. The tailings removal site sits on 400 acres where Uranium Reduction Co. built and operated a uranium-ore processing facility from the 1956 until 1962. The facility was subsequently run by Atlas Minerals through the early 1980s. Milling is the first stage in turning uranium ore into nuclear fuel; it leaves behind tailings, a waste stream with heavy metals and radium.

The 130-acre tailings pile is about 1 mile from the entrance to Arches National Park, and in the vicinity of the Colorado River watershed. The tailings are shipped by rail about 32 miles to the Crescent Junction disposal cell. Idaho-based North Wind, through its January 2017 acquisition of Portage, is the cleanup contractor at Moab.

Tailings are excavated four days per week. Last month, more than 75,000 tons of tailings were shipped to Crescent Junction for disposal, for a total to date of more than 10.4 million tons, according to a recent project update. Removal of the full 16 million tons is expected sometime in the 2030s.

Two weeks ago, the Energy Department said the Moab site and the Oak Ridge Site in Tennessee were the only remaining EM nuclear cleanup locations still running basically normal operations. That ended April 1 when Oak Ridge went into limited operations.

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