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Doe Plan Explores Mill Tailing Options

Staff reporter

Covering crews at ECDC dispose of waste in a proper fashion. Currently, the Department of Energy is exploring the option of sending hazardous material to the East Carbon facility for storage. The concern is that the waste could cause health problems for Carbon County citizens. The argument is that the waste materials could be shipped to other facilities that not only are isolated, but will also cost DOE less money than it would sending the waste to the ECDC facility.

Starting with a public hearing in East Carbon several weeks ago, the federal government's tentative plan regarding the mill tailings located near the Colorado River in Grand County has become more important to the local area.

One of the possible options outline in the proposed plan involves moving the 12 million tons of left over materials from a uranium refining process to the ECDC landfill in East Carbon City.

The preliminary plan was advanced by the United States Department of Energy in 2001.

The federal agency has outlined a number of scenarios for permanently storing the materials, which tests show are putting significant mounts of ammonia into the Colorado River.

The situation is endangering various varieties of fish, along with raising the levels of uranium and magnesium in that body of water as well.

Some of the mounting pressure to remove the tailings from the banks of the Colorado has come from southern California, where water from the river is used for not only irrigation of crops in the Imperial Valley, but also taken for culinary use in various communities.

The tailings pile, which sits about a mile northwest of Moab, was produced by a mill that was built in 1956 and operated through 1984, according to data compiled by the energy department.

The material in question consists of 10.5 million tons of actual tailings and a little over a half million tons of soil that was put over the top of it to cap it in the later days of the mills operation.

Also at the site in question are approximately .8 million tons of contaminated surface and subsurfaces soil that the DOE will need to deal with.

The site also has PCB spills from old electrical transformers as well as some other types of materials that are of concern.

In addition, the DOE must also remediate about 800 million gallons of ground water that exists on the site. The entire area encompasses about 130 acres.

The DOE report lists multiple options for dealing with the materials. But between the cost and the time it would take to resolve the problem, most officials are apparently leaning toward moving the uranium mill tailings to a different locale.

However, the keep it in place option continues to be discussed by many people. The option could be accomplished in a number of ways, according to the proponents.

First, the pile of mill tailings could be capped in place. The process would be accomplished by consolidating and stabilizing the contaminated material on the site by increasing the moisture barrier and adding a radon barrier to the side slopes of the pile.

However, concerns regarding a fault line that runs directly under the site and possible flooding problems from the nearby Moab Wash makes the scenario less desirable than moving the materials.

The fault line has been inactive for a number of years.

The estimated cost for capping the mill tailings at the site could range as much as $132 million.

But the on-site capping option represents the least expensive of all the alternatives outlined in the DOE report. However, there would also be an annual estimated cost of about $21,000 to monitor and maintain the pile.

A second on-site option is solidification. The process would mean that the site would have to be excavated and treated.

Basically, solidification would remove all the moisture from the tailings. The process would make the materials impervious to moisture as well. The cost of the option would range between $21billion to $24 billion. In addition, solidification would involve excavation and disposal costs as well.

Another type of alternative is called solid washing. The site would be chemically treated so that clean and contaminated soils are separated.

The cost for completing the washing process is estimated at totalling up to $4 billion.

In addition, the chemical treatment would be a slow process and take approximately 54 years to complete the entire pile.

A final alternative would be vitrification. In the process, extreme heat provided by electricity burns out much of the contamination and the rest is encapsulated in a glasslike residue that comes from the soils melting.

The cost of vitrification could reach $4 billion and the process would take a long time to complete.

The approximately 8.8 million yards of material at the Moab site would dwarf any project that has been done in this way in the past.

In the federal agency's report, the only off site choice thoroughly evaluated by DOE is Klondike Flats. Klondike Flats is located west of Canyonlands Airport near U.S. Highway 191 in an area uninhabited with very little traffic.

A cell could be constructed on the low lying mesa the flats sits on, according to the federal energy agency. There are no permanent streams or fault lines in the area.

Klondike Flats appears to be the main alternative. The site is located on federal property, which would have to be transferred from the U.S. Department of the Interior to DOE. DOE would maintain the site permanently.

The federal agency estimates the cost of moving the tailings and cleaning up the present site at about one-half billion dollars.

The entire project would take about eight years to complete, with railcars providing the main transportation from the mill dump to the Klondike Flats location.

The report also lists, but sets little detail on three other off-site alternatives. The White Mesa Mill in San Juan County where a similar tailings dump already exists, the Envirocare Facility west of Salt Lake in Tooele county, and of course the ECDC site.

Since the report came out another site, one by Thompson Springs near I-70 has also been mentioned.

All these alternatives would be of similar cost to the Klondike Flats estimate, except for the cost of transportation. That would be much higher for all of the options except Thompson Springs which is about double the distance from the site that Klondike Flats (17 miles) is.

ECDC is not expected to be the top option by any means and if it was selected by the DOE would have to be repermitted because it presently is not allowed to accept any radioactive waste. It is only permitted for municipal solid waste and industrial waste.

Yet, the possibility still remains as long as a decision has not been made and it remains on the DOE's option list.

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