The U.S. Department of Energy announced progress this week toward cleaning up two abandoned uranium mill tailings piles in Green River, Grand County, and near Mexican Hat, San Juan County.
Another pile of the radioactive material in Monument Valley, Ariz., is part of the Mexican Hat cleanup.An environmental assessment was released on Green River, which is on the east bank of the Green River, and a public meeting is scheduled for next week about the San Juan County tailings.
The cleanup will be carried out by the U.S. Department of Energy, under the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978. The Navajo Indian Tribe, co-sponsoring the meeting along with the DOE, is participating in the remedial action in San Juan County.
The Green River pile covers 48 acres about half a mile southeast of the town. The mill was built in 1957, at the height of the uranium boom, by Union Carbide Corp., and was operated from 1958 through 1961, according to the DOE.
Ore from uranium mines in the vicinity of Temple Mountain in the San Rafael Reef was taken to the "upgrader" mill. When the mill closed in 1961, the plant was dismantled, but the buildings were left intact.
The total volume of contaminated material is estimated at 185,000 cubic yards. Access to the mill yard is restricted by a security fence with locked gates.
"Dispersion of the tailings by wind and water erosion has contaminated approximately 64 acres," says the report. Of these, 24 acres are outside the site.
The project would relocate tailings and other contaminated material to a disposal area 60 feet south of the present tailings pile. They would be buried under compacted dirt, with small rocks to prevent erosion.
The San Juan County cleanups are scheduled to begin this year and take three years to complete. A meeting to discuss about these piles is scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 3 at Halchita Elementary School. The DOE has a toll-free number for anyone wanting additional information: 1-800-523-6495.