- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Bush administration will recommend that 12 million tons of radioactive waste in Moab, Utah, be relocated to protect the nearby Colorado River, which provides drinking water to 25 million people in four states.

The Energy Department’s decision came as a surprise to many officials and environmentalists, who feared the final determination would be based on a low-cost solution: storing decades of uranium mining waste within 750 feet of the river’s edge.

?The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the Southwest, and it makes sense environmentally and economically to move this pile now to a safe location,? said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Republican and senior member of the Utah congressional delegation who has lobbied aggressively to move the waste pile.

?The tailings have to go, and I’m glad the [Energy Department] finally saw the light and agrees with us,? he said.

Uranium was mined for atomic weapons and nuclear reactors in the 1950s. All that is left of the abandoned mines are 130 acres of radioactive waste towering 90 feet above the Colorado River, which flows through Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California. The Moab facility is the last decommissioned uranium mill to be decontaminated.

Energy Department officials say the waste already is leaking into the river but that it quickly dissipates. Residents and local officials, however, fear a major flood could push even more of the waste into the water.

The recommendation is to relocate the waste by rail to a permanent site 35 miles north of the river. This ?preferred alternative? is included in the Environmental Impact Statement due this summer, said Joel Berwick, Moab project manager at the Energy Department.

The desert town of Moab is known for skiing, rock climbing, mountain biking, skydiving and kayaking. Millions of tourists each year visit the nearby red rock cliffs and parks, including Arches National Park.

However, Moab’s 6,000 residents did not have the political power necessary to get action until this year.

?We live in paradise here, a small town in the middle of nowhere, and we recognized from the very beginning that to make this happen, we had to get water users downstream to speak out loud and clear with us,? said Grand County Council member Joette Langianese.

Bill Hedden, executive director of the Grand Canyon Trust, said lobbying efforts from state and federal agencies, governors and members of Congress were essential to provide a unified front with local residents and environmentalists to get the uranium waste moved.

In the 1990s, mine owner Atlas Minerals Corp. was given permission by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to store the waste by the river, but when the company went bankrupt in 2000 Congress turned over the cleanup to the Energy Department.

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