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Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
A truck dumps uranium tailings at the new operational Crescent Junction Disposal Site 30 miles north of Moab as a bulldozer spreads out the tailings. The tailing are from an old uranium mine at Moab.

MOAB — Enough uranium mill tailings to fill a 60-story building have been removed so far from a pile near the banks of the Colorado River, according to a press release issued Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Energy.

So far, 2 million tons of the 16 million tons of contaminated tailings at the old Atlas mill have been removed from the 439-acre site.

"DOE could not be happier with the progress we are making in moving the mill tailings away from the Colorado River," said federal project director Donald Metzler.

The tailings are the byproduct of mined ore from which the radioactive components — uranium and vanadium — have been removed. Although most of the radioactive elements are gone, the tailings contain low levels of radioactivity and hazardous heavy metals such as lead and arsenic.

Concern that floods or groundwater seepage might carry the contaminants to the river — which serves 25 million users downstream — led Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, to jump-start an accelerated cleanup plan through federal legislation. Additionally, some $108 million in federal stimulus funding was directed to the project last year, bringing new jobs to Grand County's economy and funding nearly 60 percent of the total shipments.

Twice-daily train shipments of 36 cars convey the tailings to a disposal site at Crescent Junction 30 miles away. Salt Lake-based EnergySolutions was awarded a $98.7 million contract to handle the first phase of disposal.

A statement issued by EnergySolutions said the first permanent protective cover is being applied to the disposal cell at Crescent Junction in a project that taps 300 employees of the company and its subcontractors. The site is 1,700 feet wide, 1,800 feet long and has a depth of 25 feet.

The cleanup is anticipated to be completed by 2019.

More information about the Moab Project is available online at www.gjem.energy.gov/moab.

e-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com