Moab UMTRA, Utah
The Department of Energy is more than halfway through the process of relocating 16 million tons of uranium mill tailings from a site about 3 miles from Moab, Utah, via the Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) Project.
From 1956 to 1984, the Uranium Reduction Co. and later Atlas Minerals Corp. produced “yellowcake” uranium concentrate for U.S. national defense and then commercial nuclear power operations, leaving behind 16 million tons of a “sand-like material” that contains radium and other radioactive elements in a pile spread over roughly 130 acres.
The Energy Department is responsible for disposal of the material, which involves excavating the tailings and drying them on-site, then shipping them by train in steel containers to a final disposal facility at Crescent Junction, Utah, about 30 miles north of the Moab UMTRA site.
More than $325 million has been spent since excavation began in April 2009.
As of April 2018, 56 percent of the tailings had been removed.
Portage Inc., an engineering firm based in Idaho Falls, Idaho, in April 2016 received a five-year, $153.8 million follow-on task order through November 2021 to continue excavating and transporting the mill tailings. It secured its first contract in November 2011, worth $121.2 million, replacing Utah-based EnergySolutions.
More recently, DOE in August 2017 retained S&K Logistics Services, of Byron, Ga., as the technical assistance contractor for the project, under a five-year contract worth up to $24.5 million.
Funding has been an issue for the project, with Portage reportedly laying off more than 30 workers in April 2016. The Energy Department for fiscal 2019 requested $34.9 million for Moab under its non-defense environmental cleanup budget line item – down nearly $3 million from the fiscal 2018 continuing resolution that was in place at the time of the latest budget request.
Locals hope to secure more funding from DOE to increase the rate of shipments – which are down from four per week to two -- and claw back the completion date for the project, which was set at 2019 under the 1978 Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act. That date has since fallen back to 2025 and now 2034, said Lee Shenton, Grand County’s former liaison to the project. The total life-cycle cost is estimated at roughly $1.9 billion.
“An extra $10 million a year at Moab could double the rate of shipments and finish off the project in the mid-2020s, and would barely be noticed at Hanford,” according to Shenton.