Officials celebrate UMTRA milestone as 10 million tons of low-level uranium is moved

UMTRA Director Russell McAllister, at podium, shares a light moment with the audience at Tuesday’s celebration marking the 10 millionth ton of uranium waste removed from the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remediation Action site. Photo by Doug McMurdo

By Doug McMurdo

The Times-Independent

Officials, dignitaries and residents observed a major milestone at the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action site at Lions Park Tuesday after the project reached the 10 million tons of low-level radioactive waste shipped mark, leaving 6 million more tons left to move to Crescent Junction.

UMTRA Director Russell McAllister told the audience there is “good synergy” at the Moab site north of downtown. He said he likes the “innovation and aggressiveness” of Portage, Inc., the contractor performing the work.

He said more than 1,100 work days have passed since the last lost-time accident occurred at the site and that employees are dedicated to the project and to the community. The plan is to move two to four tons a day and ship them to the disposal facility at Crescent Junction, where Legacy Management is struggling with the performance of a “very expensive cover” that is being used at other UMTRA sites.

In the meantime, he said the Department of Energy will continue to look at ways to accelerate the project and he thanked those in attendance for the “great cooperation” with the city and county.

Grand County Council Member Mary McGann serves on the UMTRA steering committee and U.S. Rep. John Curtis said she has been instrumental in the project. Her enthusiasm is based as much on personal history in Moab as her professional obligations.

UMTRA Director Russell McAllister speaks at the podium while Grand County Council Member Mary McGann, U.S. Rep. John Curtis and Greg Church listen. Curtis said McGann was relentless in seeking more help from Congress in moving radioactive waste from the site in Moab to a disposal facility in Crescent Junction. Photo by Doug McMurdo

While the Moab UMTRA site is its official name, McGann said that locals refer to it as simply the Moab Pile.

“Dad moved to Moab in 1955 to be a mining engineer,” she said. “And Moab was booming. There was a housing crisis back then too, and it took two years for her family to secure housing.”

The world was a different place in the 1950s, naïve to the danger of yellowcake uranium.

“Every year we celebrated Uranium Day and every girl wanted to be Miss Uranium Queen. Grand County embraced uranium and most of us were totally unaware of the health issues … we were proud because we were making the U.S. safe from Russia.”

My dad built the pile, and I’m tearing it down.

Mary McGann, Grand County Council member

McGann said her father, John Mullen, eventually became the supervisor of mine operations at Atlas Minerals. “My dad built the pile, and I’m tearing it down,” she said. In 1984, Atlas Minerals closed the mine and was supposed to rehabilitate the site but instead filed bankruptcy and left Moab.

Residents mounted a lobbying effort to force the Department of Energy to move the tailings from the banks of the Colorado River, she said, and that work was approved in 2005. “I offer a sincere thank you to all who worked to bring this to fruition,” she said.

Cake was served following the speeches. It was yellow cake, of course.