House amendment would remove Moab tailings by 2019 |

House amendment would remove Moab tailings by 2019

WASHINGTON ” The radioactive sludge sitting near the Colorado River outside Moab, Utah, would have to be cleaned up by 2019, years earlier than proposed by the Energy Department, under an amendment approved by the House.

The amendment to a defense bill passed by a voice vote Wednesday night. It would require the uranium tailings to be moved nine years sooner than the latest estimate by the government.

Rep. Jim Matheson, R-Utah, like other state officials, has long pushed for the government to clean up the 16 million ton pile, a major concern for millions of people across the West who depend on the Colorado River for drinking water.

The job was supposed to be done by 2012, but Energy Department officials earlier this year said the target now is 2028, based on the agency’s budget.

Matheson, who sponsored the amendment, said he was frustrated by what he considers were inadequate responses about the delay.

He based his amendment on an earlier estimated timetable. It would require the tailings be moved to Crescent Junction, Utah, by Oct. 1, 2019.

“I’m giving them to 2019,” he said. “That’s the maximum flexibility.”

In a memo sent to Matheson’s office before the House vote, department officials said the 2028 target was an estimate for planning purposes only.

They said the amendment, if it becomes law, could force the Energy Department to renegotiate deadlines and seek future legislation if technical problems or money woes slowed the cleanup.

Matheson wasn’t sympathetic. He’s confident the amendment can make it through Congress.

The tailings are a remnant of the Cold War, when Moab’s rich uranium deposits were mined for nuclear bombs. The waste comes from a uranium mill bought by Atlas Minerals Corp. in 1962 but closed in 1984. In 1998, the company filed for bankruptcy, leaving a temporary cap on the pile.

The Energy Department has pumped 75 million gallons of contaminated water and put other measures in place to keep chemicals from reaching the Colorado River, which provides drinking water for about 25 million people across the West.

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