WASHINGTON — The Energy Department estimates it could cost up to $1 billion to clean up the uranium mill tailings in Moab by 2019, based on an anticipated report issued to Congress late Tuesday.

The 2019 deadline gets the project done faster than the 2028 deadline the department submitted to Congress last year but is still way beyond the 2012 deadline initially proposed when the department took over the project.

In a five-page report, the department's Office of Environmental Management said it is working on railroad and truck options to move the tailings about 30 miles away to the Crescent Junction site and will make a transportation mode decision later this year.

The tailings site is about 439 acres on the west bank of the Colorado River at the Moab Wash, about three miles northwest of Moab. About 130 acres of the site is covered by a pile of 16 million tons of uranium mill tailings, according to the report. The department needs to move the tailings as well as remediate the groundwater there as part of the project.

The department estimates the project could cost from $844.2 million to just over $1 billion through the 2019 completion, according to the report. In the fiscal year 2009 budget request sent to Congress in February, the department estimated it would cost between $723 million and $950 million to finish the job by 2028.

Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, called for the report as well as required the 2019 deadline through an amendment Congress approved last year after energy officials testified the department was instead working on a 2028 timetable.

"While I acknowledge the progress that has been made, I am concerned we will continue to face escalating costs the longer it takes to remove the tailings," Bennett said in a statement Tuesday. "This report underscores the need to complete the project as quickly as possible. I look forward to continuing to work with the department to expedite the remediation of the site in a safe and cost-efficient way."

Matheson had not yet seen the report so could not comment.

The total cost of the program varies because it is not certain yet how the tailings would be shipped. The department estimates the project would cost $30 million in fiscal year 2009 and between $79 million and $103 million each year after that through 2019.

Matheson's communications director Alyson Heyrend called the report "puny" and said that it created more questions than it answered because it did not contain a lot of information.


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