The Department of Energy is seeking public input into their plans to move the 13 million tons of contaminated/radioactive tailings and wastewater to another site away from the Colorado River. Environmentalists and special interest groups have been up in arms about the impact the uranium mill site has on the river. I wanted to see first hand what the issue was so I went to Moab this past weekend to see the pile first hand. It's huge, it's ugly and it could become ours! I went to the Klondike alternative site and the Crescent Junction alternative site and I was struck by how remote they were compared to East Carbon. If the tailings come to East Carbon they will be transported right by these two locations. To learn more about this issue I copied and read the 215 page "Preliminary Plan for Remediation" found on the DOE web site. I researched many web articles and read a lot of newspaper stories about it so I feel fairly well informed.
My position is clear. Leave it in Moab. It would be safer, cleaner, cheaper and faster than moving it. Moab benefited economically from the uranium business. They created it so they should accept the consequences. Why move it 100 miles just to contaminate another site?
Here are some of the issues that have led me to conclude that the radioactive tailings don't belong three miles from downtown East Carbon.
Concern for the people is paramount in my mind. In their plan they admit that at alternative sites less people would be adversely impacted by the waste. They admit there would be greater risk to workers. In a memorandum prepared August 2000 by Senes Consultants on behalf of the Moab Mill Reclamation Trust they indicated that due to excessive exposure to radon and gamma radiation by the nearest resident to the tailings, they would be forced out of their homes 10 percent of the time. In a report released by the Department of Justice Civil Division, 8,883 claims related to radiation exposure were approved. Claim types included childhood leukemia, exposure by downwinders and on site participants. Also included were uranium miners and ore transporters. A total of $587 million was approved to settle the claims.
The East Carbon Medical Service Clinic has recently been selected to be a screening location for the Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program. They will be screening individuals who worked in uranium mines prior to 1971 as well as people who have been effected by atmospheric nuclear fallout due to testing at the Nevada Test Site. The screening will help document the radiogenic disease or cancer they have and how it correlates to their exposure. It will help qualify them for compensation. The DOE has a website dedicated to "Best Practices Learned". A September 2002 report dealing with emergency management/response and transportation looked at an incident where a truck carrying low level radiological debris had an accident and spilled it's load. The root cause of the accident was driver error (failing to obey traffic safety rules). Recommended actions following the spill dealt with accident prevention, emergency response and mitigative actions.
Could this happen here? The plan DOE has for East Carbon calls for unloading the tailing gondola cars with ECDC's dedicated rollover facility. They would then be transported to the cell by large capacity haul trucks. The number of transfers (train to truck to cell) would be in the many thousands. The opportunities for spills, leaks, accidents and injury are countless. Other transportation options the DOE is considering in addition to rail are trucking and a slurry pipeline. The number of trucks or truckloads is estimated to be in the three hundred thousand range. Can you imagine that many trucks on highway 6? Rather than sending them back empty maybe they could go back full of trash. Seems like a valid proposition to me. All of this information leads me to believe the health, safety, environmental and economic risks associated with shipping, handling and storing the tailings is too great for me to accept, thus I don't support them coming to East Carbon.
I have looked at the economic benefits to Carbon County if the tailings come here. Yes, there could be incremental jobs associated with constructing a cell, transporting the waste, filling and capping the cell and providing oversight for 1000 years to insure nothing gets out. However the bulk of the jobs connected with this project will be in Moab. The plan calls for paying the oversight company (in this case ECDC) under $20,000 a year to manage the cell. ECDC's operating plan indicates they will be filled to capacity in 40 years. There have been three owners of the landfill since it's inception. Who will end up watching the pile if or when ECDC leaves? Will East Carbon City become responsible?
We need to be wary of promises made now regarding the future. We can't forget about the promises that were made 10 years ago by the first owner. Incinerated ash from household trash, no hazardous waste, no radioactive waste, cells that didn't block out the sun all sounded swell. Lots of folks remember the unresolved concerns they had then. The decision regarding moving the tailings is just as important!
One of the options the DOE talked about in their plan is that they become the owners of the cell. ECDC would be asked to sell them the cell site. If they (the government) became the owner rather than a private company they indicate they could bypass the need (and lengthy process) for a license to bring in radioactive waste. What would they bring in next? Glowing rods from nuclear plants? Old bombs? The East Carbon site should never be licensed to receive radioactive waste of any kind.
Seismic risk is another factor. When you look a map showing all of the earthquakes in Utah since 1850 it jumps off the page! There have been numerous earthquakes in this area versus virtually none in the Moab area. Even though ECDC did geologic studies prior to their permit being approved you can't convince me this area is at less risk than Moab for catastrophic failure if the "big one" hits. If something like a 7.2 quake does hit you can begin to really worry about the ground water and aquifer.
Cost is another issue. Moving the debris away from its existing location is estimated to cost anywhere between $360 million and $450 million. The cap-it-in-place option is in the neighborhood of $135 million. To do nothing to the pile is also an option the DOE has. To do nothing should cost nothing. Seems obvious to this taxpayer what they should do. Instead, maybe they should move the Colorado River a couple of hundred feet farther south it might be cheaper. Imagine the uproar that would cause!
A Salt Lake Tribune story about the tailings controversy published February 9 said East Carbon residents were "grousing" about the possibility of having the tailings near by. I believe it should have read "outraged". You grouse if you get bad service or if the neighbor's dog barks too much. You should be outraged if the government or big business tries to slip one in on you. The fact that a meeting was held in East Carbon was a surprise to many of us. This is more than an East Carbon issue. It's much broader than that. I personally talked to a large number of elected county and city officials. I spoke to individuals, businesses and organizations that might be affected. Nobody knew about the meeting or the short response deadline. The DOE's cut off date for public input is February 14. Hopefully readers of the Sun Advocate will call, email or write the DOE expressing their opinion. Many of us are going to the East Carbon City Council meeting on Tuesday February 11 at 6:30 p.m. I encourage others to attend as well. This issue is on the agenda.
Residents should call their county commissioners, state representatives and others to voice their opinions while they still can.