Matheson Presses Energy Dept. on Moab Tailings Cleanup Slowdown

(KCPW News) Utah Congressman Jim Matheson is pressing the Department of Energy on a five-year contract it awarded last year for the removal of 3.1 million tons of radioactive mill tailings from the Moab Tailings Project Site along the Colorado River. Noting that five million tons have been removed in the past three years, the congressman says under this slower pace, the project won’t be done by 2019 as required by law.

“In one context, it’s at least another ten years, and I worry that it’s a trend that when the next contract gets let, could be extended even further,” he tells KCPW. “This is hopefully not a harbinger of even more delays in the future, but that’s my broader concern.”

The Democratic lawmaker sent a letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu today outlining his concerns.

He questions how the Energy Department is prioritizing its funding, noting that it has allocated money for other cleanup projects that will take decades.

“…whereas in this case, we’ve got a location that if we are aggressive about moving forward in the cleanup, I think it saves taxpayer money,” he says. “There’s always going to be your fixed costs to keep your administrative structure in place to run this operation, and I think if we actually are aggressive about moving the dirt by hiring more folks to actually do the earth moving, we can move faster.”

Matheson’s letter also questions why 25 percent of the project’s funding has been put toward a field office that will oversee the cleanup, rather than actually removing the tailings. The Moab site is the former location of a uranium ore processing facility run by Atlas Minerals Corporation.