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Geoff Liesik, Deseret News
Crews have removed more than 9.5 million tons of uranium mill tailings and contaminated soil from the banks of the Colorado River outside Moab in 10 years.

MOAB — This month marks the 10th anniversary of the first rail shipment of radioactive tailings from the "Pile" near the banks of the Colorado River, with an estimated 9.5 million tons buried 30 miles away.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced that roughly 6.5 million tons of the uranium mill tailings remain.

Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Deseret News
The U.S. Department of Energy began removing 16 million tons of radioactive tailings near the banks of the Colorado River outside Moab began 10 years ago.

The tailings are sandlike material left over from a 1950s-era uranium mill that operated at the height of the Cold War.

Authorities feared the material could contaminate the Colorado River, which serves 40 million people and irrigates 5 million acres of farmland.

In February, the government began a stepped-up schedule of removal, doubling weekly train shipments to Crescent Junction, where the disposal cell is located.

Each train can haul up to 144 containers and carry approximately 4,700 tons of mill tailings.

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The accelerated schedule added 23 new employees to the project, which sits on 480 acres near the west bank of the river. The tailings cover 130 acres.

Once the site is fully remediated, community leaders say it could be home to numerous amenities such a trails, an outdoor event center, a community park or a welcome center.

The mill was built in 1956 outside Moab and closed in 1984. The site is monitored continuously for groundwater contamination and with air monitors. A portion of the site has been contoured to protect against flood events.