Decommissioning of Moab, Utah, Uranium Mill Tailings (Archive 1996 - 1999)

(last updated 22 Jun 2002)


Issues Archive: 1996-1999

> For more recent issues, see Moab Current Issues


New trustee chosen for Atlas Moab tailings

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with concurrence from the State of Utah, has chosen PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PWC), a professional services organization, as the trustee to continue cleanup of the Atlas company's uranium mill tailings site in Moab, Utah." (NRC News Release 99-238, Nov 5, 1999 )

On Dec. 27, 1999, the license was transferred to the trustee (Federal Register Vol.65, No.1, Jan.3, 2000, p.138-140 )

Utah seeking State regulation of uranium mills and tailings

The State of Utah plans to extend its Agreement State status with the U.S. NRC to the regulation of uranium mills and tailings. This would allow the State to regulate the controversial reclamation of the Atlas Moab tailings pile by its own. [MORE]

Dames & Moore declines trusteeship for Atlas tailings pile

"Dames & Moore, an engineering firm with extensive experience in uranium recovery and hazardous waste reclamation, has declined the NRC's offer to become the trustee to continue cleanup of the Atlas company's uranium mill tailings site in Moab, Utah. The company notified the NRC of its decision to decline due to its recent acquisition by another company." (NRC News Release Oct. 20, 1999 )

Trustee chosen for Atlas Moab tailings

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with concurrence from the State of Utah, has chosen engineering firm Dames & Moore as the trustee to continue cleanup of the Atlas company's uranium mill tailings site in Moab, Utah.
The license for the site will be transferred from Atlas to the trustee, releasing the Atlas Corporation from any future liability or responsibility for the cleanup of the Moab site. The trust will contain approximately $7-8 million, unless further funds are appropriated by Congress, while the cost of the on-site stabilization project is estimated at $16 million to $19 million. (NRC News Release 99-206, Sep 27, 1999 )

EPA continues to have objections to in place reclamation of Atlas Moab tailings

Federal Register: August 13, 1999 (Vol. 64, No. 156) p. 44218-44219 (download full text ):
"Summary: EPA agrees in principle to issue a license amendment to conduct preliminary cleanup action. However, EPA continues to have objections to the proposed action due to the uncertainty of whether the proposed reclamation of the site will meet the standards necessary to protect an endangered fish species from the leaching of contaminants into the Colorado River." (ERP No. F-NRC-J09802-UT)

NRC approves in place reclamation of Atlas Moab tailings

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has signed a license amendment approving a plan for the Atlas Corporation to stabilize in place its uranium mill tailings pile near Moab, Utah. [...]
The Atlas plan includes (1) re-grading the tailings to enhance drainage off the pile and (2) installing an earth and rock cover system over the pile. This cover system is intended to minimize radon escape, infiltration of rain water into the tailings (thus minimizing infiltration of tailings contaminants into the groundwater), and tailings erosion potentially caused by surface runoff from rain or flooding of the Colorado River. [...]" (NRC News Release 99-113, May 28, 1999 )

Supplement to the Final Technical Evaluation Report for Atlas' Moab tailings reclamation available

> See Notice of Availability in Federal Register, April 30, 1999 (Vol. 64, No. 83), p. 23365 (download full text )

Another bill introduced to relocate Moab tailings

On April 22, 1999, Representative Chris Cannon (R-UT) introduced legislation that would require the Atlas uranium mill tailings to be moved from the banks of the Colorado River near Moab.
> View status and full text of H.R.1559 : "To amend the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978 to provide for the remediation of the Atlas mill tailings site near Moab, Utah."

Watchdog releases report on Moab tailings cleanup plans

On March 23, 1999, the The Project On Government Oversight released a 230-page report titled Nuclear Regulatory Commission Sells Environment Down the River: Radiation Flows Unchecked Into Colorado River. "The report confirms that Atlas Corporation, the polluter that owns the site, has bullied the NRC into accepting a clean-up plan that will save the company a bundle of money but falls far short of government and public safety standards."
> View POGO press release March 23, 1999
> View main text of report

Atlas to be released from future liability for Moab tailings

On March 19, 1999, Atlas Corporation announced an agreement in principle for its release from all future liability with respect to its uranium mill and tailings impoundment near Moab, Utah. The agreement was reached with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the State of Utah, ACSTAR (surety provider for Atlas) and Atlas' Unsecured Creditor's Committee.

Atlas can't even cover on-site stabilization cost

On March 12, 1999, negotiations in Denver on Atlas' bankruptcy revealed the company has only between $9 million and $11 million that can be used on the reclamation work of its Moab uranium tailings pile, while the cost of the on-site stabilization project is estimated at $16 million to $19 million. (The Salt Lake Tribune March 13, 1999 )

NRC issues FEIS finding on-site stabilization of Atlas tailings pile acceptable, subject to conditions

On March 12, 1999, the NRC Staff has issued the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed handling of uranium mill tailings owned by the Atlas Corporation near Moab, Utah:
"A proposal by the Atlas Corporation to leave its uranium mill tailings pile permanently in place near Moab, Utah, was found environmentally acceptable by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission if the company meets a number of specific requirements from the NRC and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and if it can show that ammonia levels in the Colorado River will be reduced to levels specified by the FWS." (NRC News Release 99-49, March 12, 1999 )

Final Environmental Impact Statement Related to Reclamation of the Uranium Mill Tailings at the Atlas Site, Moab, Utah, Source Material License No. SUA 917, Docket No. 40-3453 Atlas Corporation, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards, NUREG-1531, March 1999
> View Abstract, Summary and Conclusions (30k)
> Download portions of the FEIS in PDF format:


NRC says ammonia standard won't be met with Atlas' reclamation proposal

"Meeting with Atlas Corporation

On February 12, 1999, the Deputy Executive Director for Regulatory Programs and staff from the Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards and the Office of the General Counsel met with representatives of the Atlas Corporation." [...]
"At the Meeting, the staff informed Atlas that it could not conclude that the standard for ammonia in the Colorado River, identified in the July 1998 BO, would be met by the Atlas proposal. The staff stated that it plans to issue the FEIS in March with this as an open issue and that it would not be able to approve Atlas' proposed reclamation until this issue was satisfactorily resolved. Atlas stated that it would be unable to provide the additional data and analysis to resolve the open issue because of its financial condition." [...] (NRC Weekly Information Report For the Week Ending February 19, 1999)


Grand County Council seeks EPA assistance

"Grand County Council Meeting on Atlas

On January 20, 1999, staff from the Division of Waste Management (DWM) attended a Meeting of the Grand County Council and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The purpose of the Meeting was to have EPA respond to a December 1, 1998, letter from the Council asking for EPA assistance on the Atlas mill tailings reclamation plan. In the letter, the Council identifies what it believes are deficiencies in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) evaluation, the need for EPA involvement in the process, and a request that EPA look at revisiting its earlier Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation Liability Act (CERCLA) assessment of the site. At the Meeting, EPA discussed its position on the site, and answered questions from Council members. In particular, EPA noted that it had done a CERCLA evaluation of the site and deferred any action to the NRC. However, EPA also stated that if it did not find NRC's actions on the site to be adequate, EPA would consider what actions might be taken under CERCLA. Council members also questioned DWM staff on the status of NRC's review as well as issues associated with the ongoing licensing action." (U.S. NRC Weekly Information Report For the Week Ending January 22, 1999)


Bill introduced to relocate Atlas tailings

On January 19, 1999, Representative George Miller (D-CA), cosponsored by Bob Filner (D-CA), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Scott McInnis (R-CO), and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), introduced the bill: To amend the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978 to provide for the remediation of the Atlas uranium milling site near Moab, Utah. (H.R. 393)
This bill would transfer the responsibility for the cleanup of the Atlas tailings at Moab to the Department of Energy, in order to remove the tailings from the floodplain of the Colorado River.
Atlas still plans to spend $19 million to cap the tailings, but the additional measures imposed by NRC could push the cost beyond this figure. It would, however, take an estimated $155 million to move the material, instead of capping it.
> View status and full text of bill H.R. 393

NRC denies State of Utah petition

> from Federal Register January 26, 1999 (Vol. 64, No. 16) p. 3988-3991 (download full text) :
"SUMMARY: Notice is hereby given that a request for Hearing and Petition for Leave to Intervene (Petition) filed by the State of Utah (State) has been reviewed by the staff as a petition under 10 CFR 2.206, in accordance with 10 CFR 2.1205(l)(2). For reasons explained in Director's Decision DD-99-02 , dated January 20, 1999, the Petition has been denied." [...]
"In its Petition, the State asserted that if Atlas were to proceed with its reclamation plan as approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it would be in violation of 10 CFR Part 40, Appendix A. The Petition was referred to the Director of the Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards. As provided by Section 2.206 and discussed in the Federal Register notice, appropriate action was taken on this Petition. The staff reviewed the specific assertions made by the State and concluded that the Petition should be denied." [...]


Atlas requests postponement of groundwater restoration completion date

> from Federal Register January 19, 1999 (Vol. 64, No. 11), p. 2919-2920 (download full text) :
"SUMMARY: Notice is hereby given that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has received, by letter dated December 22, 1998, a request from Atlas Corporation (Atlas) to amend License Condition (LC) 55 B.(2) of Source Material License SUA-917 for the Moab, Utah, facility. The license amendment request proposes to modify LC 55 B.(2) to change the completion date for ground-water corrective actions to meet performance objectives specified in the ground-water corrective action plan. Atlas proposes to revise the date pursuant to the reasonable and prudent alternative and mitigative measures stipulated in the Biological Opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on July 31, 1998. The reasonable and prudent alternative states that ground water should be cleaned up to relevant standards within 7 years from Atlas' receipt of NRC approval of a revised ground-water corrective action plan."
A request for a hearing must be filed within 30 days from January 19, 1999.

NRC chairman to hold news briefing on Atlas tailings

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Commissioner Jeffrey S. Merrifield, will hold a news briefing in Moab, Utah, following their visit to the site of Atlas Corporation's Moab Mill, a closed uranium mill, on Thursday, December 17, 1998. The news briefing will be begin at 3:30 p.m. in the Grand County Council Chambers at 125 E. Center Street, Moab. (NRC news release, Dec. 14, 1998 )

County, Environmentalists Sue Agency Over Tailings

"Grand County and a coalition of environmental groups are suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for declaring that 10.5 million tons of uranium tailings on the banks of the Colorado River won't jeopardize endangered fish.
Filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, the lawsuit claims the wildlife agency acted under pressure from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Atlas Corp. in approving a plan to cover the tailings pile with an earthen cap if steps are taken to prevent ground-water contamination." (Salt Lake Tribune Nov. 12, 1998)

Groups Launch 2nd Legal Action Against Leaving Atlas Tailings by River

Environmentalists and Moab residents this week launched a second legal offensive -- and are threatening a third one -- against a controversial plan to leave a huge pile of radioactive tailings along the Colorado River.
On Oct. 13, the Flagstaff, Ariz.-based Grand Canyon Trust sent the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) a ``notice of intent to sue,'' alleging the agency is violating the federal Endangered Species Act by allowing the tailings to remain in place. (Salt Lake Tribune Oct 14, 1998)

Atlas Corp. files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

On September 23, 1998, Atlas Corporation announced that it has filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court a petition for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Chapter 11 (other than Chapter 7) places a company under the protection of the bankruptcy court, so it can continue to operate and generate the money needed to pay off its creditors. This stops legal action against Atlas by creditors. The company has to come up with a recovery plan which the bankruptcy court will accept.
"On September 22, 1998, Atlas Corporation filed, with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Colorado, a petition for relief under Chapter 11 of Title 11 of the U.S. Code, 11 U.S.C. Sections 101 et seq. Atlas holds Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Source Material License No. SUA-917 for its former uranium mill facility near Moab, Utah. NRC staff is currently in the process of assessing Atlas' proposal to reclaim the uranium mill tailings in Place. Atlas stated that it intends to continue its responsibilities with respect to its NRC license. On October 1, 1998, staff from the Division of Waste Management (DWM) met with Atlas Corporation to discuss its bankruptcy filing and the Atlas plan to still reclaim the Moab, Utah tailings. Essentially, Atlas informed DWM that it had sufficient assets to reclaim the tailings. These included: (1) on-hand cash; (2) property at the Moab site that could be sold; (3) Colorado River rights; and (4) payments from the Department of Energy for the federal governments portion of the tailings reclamation costs. In addition, Atlas presented information on how it is working with a company that insures reclamation cleanup costs. Through this arrangement, Atlas would obtain insurance to cover any additional costs over the current $19 million cost estimate for on-site reclamation. This additional guarantee of funds would ensure that on-site reclamation could be completed. Atlas also informed DWM that in order to ensure that the bankruptcy was not moved from Chapter 11 (reorganization of Atlas) to Chapter 7 (liquidation of Atlas), Atlas would need the NRC Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) by December 1998. Atlas indicated that either the Board of Creditors for the bankruptcy or the Judge could move to have the bankruptcy treated as Chapter 7. DWM's current Schedule was to complete the FEIS by March 1999. DWM committed to review the situation, and determine what could be done to accelerate the Schedule. The U.S. attorney located in Denver participated in the call, and has committed to support NRC in the bankruptcy proceeding." [NRC Weekly Information Report for the Week Ending October 2, 1998]


NRC schedules meeting in Moab, Utah

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a public meeting September 16, 1998 in Moab, Utah, to discuss the status of the agency's review of Atlas Corporation's proposal for cleanup of uranium mill tailings at its site near Moab.
> View NRC News Release No.98-156 (Sept. 3, 1998)

ASLB denies Utah's request to intervene in Atlas' NRC licensing action

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) denied the State of Utah's request for hearing and petition for leave to intervene in the licensing action before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) re the reclamation of the Atlas Corp. uranium mill tailings. The ASLB dismissed Utah's request and referred the matter to the NRC staff for further consideration. (Atlas Corp. Aug. 14, 1998)

FWS issues Final Biological Opinion on Moab tailings reclamation

On July 30, 1998, The Fish and Wildlife Service issued its final biological opinion on the proposed reclamation plan for the Atlas Corporation's uranium mill tailings site in Moab, Utah.
> View FWS press release No. 98-33

NRC issues comments on FWS revised draft opinion on Moab tailings reclamation

On May 7, 1998, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued comments on the Fish and Wildlife Service's revised draft biological opinion on the proposed reclamation plan for the Atlas Corporation's uranium mill tailings site in Moab, Utah.
> View NRC press release 98-65 · NRC letter · summary · detailed comments (83k).
> Download Fish and Wildlife Service's Revised Draft Biological Opinion (406k - Wordperfect 6.1)

Coalition to Sue Atlas Corp to Move Uranium Tailings

"A coalition of environmental groups, disappointed with a biological opinion issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service, says it will sue Atlas Corp. to force the company to move its pile of uranium tailings outside Moab.
Studies by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Energy say contaminants from the 10.5 million tons of tailings are leaching into the Colorado River just 750 feet away, polluting the river and threatening several endangered species of fish.
But the Fish and Wildlife Service said in a draft biological opinion Thursday that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission doesn't have the authority to force Atlas to move the tailings, even though the report said capping the tailings in place is an inadequate remedy.
That prompted the Grand Canyon Trust, the Sierra Club and several Moab area residents and businesses to announce plans Tuesday to sue the Denver-based company in federal court in Utah, claiming it violated the Clean Water Act." (Salt Lake Tribune , Apr. 24, 1998)

Tailings Removal No Longer on Agency's `Most Wanted' List

"The FWS (Fish and Wildlife Service) released a revised draft biological opinion this week, reaffirming its position that leaving the pile in place jeopardizes two endangered fish, the Colorado squawfish and the razorback sucker.
Unlike its original draft opinion, though, this time the agency is not recommending the pile be removed.
For one thing, moving the tailings would take an act of Congress, which at this point is not an option.
Most importantly, Atlas recently persuaded the FWS that it has a solution to the problem of contaminated ground water, which is the primary danger to the fish.
Atlas says it can drain the contaminated water through a process known as ``wicking.'' " (Salt Lake Tribune , Apr. 19, 1998)
> View Fish and Wildlife Service's press release of Apr. 16, 1998
> Download Fish and Wildlife Service's Revised Draft Biological Opinion (406k - Wordperfect 6.1)

Utah Radiation Control Board disagrees with NRC approval of apron design for Moab tailings

In a 7-2 vote passed on April 3, 1998, the Utah Radiation Control Board disagreed with the NRC approval of the apron design proposed by Atlas Corp. for its Moab uranium mill tailings pile. The apron is meant to protect the tailings pile from erosion of the Colorado River in case of river migration. The vote is based on a report entitled: "Review of Rock Apron Design, Atlas Uranium Mill, Moab, Utah" commissioned by the Grand County Council and accomplished by the Army Corps of Engineers (COE). The Board has concluded that the COE approach is more protective of the tailings pile side slopes.
(Source: Utah Radiation Control Board Minutes: April 3, 1998)

"The Atlas uranium mill tailings near Moab will be tested again to determine whether contaminated ground water is threatening endangered fish in the Colorado River.
A team of experts from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in Grand Junction, Colo., is beginning a 60-day study aimed at resolving a difference of opinion between two federal agencies about the danger posed by the 10.5 million tons of sand-like, mildly radioactive material." (Salt Lake Tribune , Nov. 19, 1997)

On August 12, 1997, NRC provided comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service on its Draft Biological Opinion:
> View the letter and comments . Download document WordPerfect 5.1 format.

On June 27, 1997, the Fish and Wildlife Service transmitted to the NRC its draft biological opinion for impacts to federally listed endangered species from the Proposed Reclamation of the Atlas Mill Tailings Site in Moab, Utah. According to the Service, the proposed decommissioning project will jeopardize the continued existence of four fish species in the Colorado River:

"... it is the Service's biological opinion that the project, as described, will jeopardize the continued existence of razorback sucker, Colorado squawfish, humpback chub, and bonytail chub, and will not jeopardize the continued existence of southwestern willow flycatcher. Additionally, the proposed action will result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat for the Colorado squawfish and razorback sucker. ..."
> View document (218k) on the web. Download document in WordPerfect 6.1 (Windows) format.

On May 16, 1997, NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel denied a hearing request by petitioner John Francis Darke challenging Atlas Corporation's December 20, 1996 application to amend its 10 C.F.R. Part 40 license for its uranium milling facility in Moab, Utah.
> View ASLBP decision LBP-97-09

March 1997: NRC releases Final Technical Evaluation Report for the proposed revised reclamation plan for the Atlas Corporation Moab Mill.

According to the report, the tailings can be reclaimed in place and need not be moved to a safer place (as demanded by concerned residents).

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards: Final Technical Evaluation Report - For the proposed revised reclamation plan for the Atlas Corporation Moab Mill, NUREG-1532, March 1997

ABSTRACT: This final Technical Evaluation Report (TER) summarizes the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff's review of Atlas Corporation's proposed reclamation plan for its uranium mill tailings pile near Moab, Utah. The proposed reclamation would allow Atlas to The NRC staff concludes that, subject to license conditions identified in the TER, the proposed reclamation plan meets the requirements identified in NRC regulations, which appear primarily in 10 CFR Part 40.

> Download full Technical Evaluation Report: HTML (530k) / WordPerfect 5.1

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, January 2, 1997, SECY 97- 001

Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards - Items of Interest

Atlas Meeting with the U.S. Department of the Interior

On December 18, 1996, staff from the Division of Waste Management participated in a meeting between representatives of Atlas Corporation and DOI in Denver, Colorado. The meeting was held to discuss DOI's concerns with Atlas' proposed reclamation plan for its uranium mill in Moab, Utah and DOI's comments on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC's) Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and Draft Technical Evaluation Report (DTER) related to the reclamation. The DEIS and DTER were published in January 1996 and DOI formally commented on the documents in April 1996. At a July 25, 1996, meeting with NRC staff, DOI requested a meeting at which its technical staff could discuss its concerns.

The primary focus of the meeting was the existing groundwater contamination, created by the Atlas tailings, in the alluvial aquifer and potential impacts to the Colorado River and to other groundwater resources. Atlas representatives also presented background material, including information on the history of the site, and stressed the urgency of a quick decision. The NRC staff also briefed DOI staff on NRC's legislative and regulatory framework and on the uranium mill tailings program.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, October 2, 1996, SECY 96- 211

Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards - Items of Interest

Meeting with Atlas Corporation

On September 19, 1996, staff from the Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards and the Office of the General Counsel met with the President and other representatives of Atlas Corporation to discuss the schedule and status of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's ongoing review of Atlas' proposed reclamation of its uranium mill tailings near Moab, Utah. Atlas stated the importance of expediting the review and requested that NRC provide formal documentation of its progress in the review.

NRC noted that the major causes of delay in finalizing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) were the extensive comments received on the January 1996 draft EIS and delays caused by required interaction with other Federal agencies. NRC stated that most of the open issues identified in the January 1996 Draft Technical Evaluation Report (DTER) relating to the acceptability of the site have now been resolved. NRC will send a letter to Atlas documenting the status of the 20 DTER open issues. Within the next three weeks, Atlas will provide information on those DTER open issues that it has not yet addressed.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, February 28, 1996, SECY 96- 043

Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards - Items of Interest

Meetings on Atlas Draft Environmental Impact Statement

Staff from the Uranium Recovery Branch and Oak Ridge National Laboratory met with representatives from Denver offices of the National Park Service (NPS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on February 20 21, 1996. The purpose of the meetings was to discuss the staff's Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Atlas mill tailings reclamation and elicit any concerns from these two Federal agencies, in advance of the public meeting on the DEIS scheduled for February 28, 1996. The NPS discussed its concerns that additional data are needed on the chemical composition of the tailings as well as additional data on the impact to the Colorado River including biota, sediment, and river water quality. NPS believes this data will serve as a basis for an evaluation of the environmental impacts of the Atlas proposal.

The staff will need to consider these concerns and determine what additional information, if any, NRC believes is needed. The EPA staff noted that it would prefer that the tailings be relocated to the alternative site. However, based on the fact that the cost of relocating the tailings was five times greater than on-site stabilization, EPA would not object to on-site stabilization. EPA did commit to provide the staff with historical data from its Radium Monitoring Network. These data show little impact on the Colorado River water quality from raw tailings that were disposed of directly into the river and tailings seepage into the river.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, March 14, 1996, SECY 96- 055

Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards - Items of Interest

Public Meeting on Atlas Reclamation

On February 29, 1996, staff from the Division of Waste Management, Uranium Recovery Branch (URB) and their contractor Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) held a public meeting in Moab, Utah, to discuss the Atlas Minerals proposal to reclaim 10 million tons of uranium mill tailings at the Atlas Moab, Utah, site. The meeting was attended by approximately 220 citizens from Moab and surrounding communities, as well as representatives from Senators Hatch and Bennett's staffs, from Representative Ortin's staff, and from the State of Utah. At the meeting, the URB staff gave two presentations covering an overview of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulatory process, and development of the Draft Technical Evaluation Report (DTER). The ORNL staff made a presentation on the process for preparing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Following these presentations, the URB staff solicited comments on these documents, the majority of which fell into five areas:

  1. the use of Roundtop Mountain as a source of rip rap for erosion protection;
  2. the need for additional information in the DEIS to support the conclusions;
  3. disagreement with the cost estimates provided for on-site reclamation and relocation of the tailings;
  4. the need to more extensively address groundwater; and
  5. the need to better address transportation risk from hauling rock to the Moab site.

The URB and ORNL staffs believe that these comments can be addressed in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. [...]

Excerpt from Federal Register; download full notice via GPO Access

[Federal Register: January 30, 1996 (Volume 61, Number 20)] [Notices] [Page 3058-3059]
>From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access []
================================================================ =======

[Docket No. 40-3453]

Atlas Corporation; Draft Environmental Impact Statement

AGENCY: Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
ACTION: Notice of availability.
---------------------------------------------------------------- -------

SUMMARY: The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), in cooperation with the National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Department of Interior, has published a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) regarding the proposed reclamation by Atlas Corporation (Atlas) of an existing uranium mill tailings pile near Moab, Utah. This DEIS describes and evaluates the potential environmental impacts of approving Atlas' request to amend its existing NRC License No. SUA-917 to reclaim the tailings pile in place. Based on the evaluations in this DEIS, the NRC staff's preliminary conclusion is that the Atlas proposal is acceptable with respect to environmental costs and benefits.
The NRC has also published a Draft Technical Evaluation Report (DTER) evaluating the proposed reclamation with respect to appropriate NRC safety regulations, primarily Appendix A of 10 CFR, Part 40. Until and unless open issues identified in geology, seismology, geotechnical engineering, erosion protection, water resources protection, and radon attenuation are adequately resolved, NRC will not approve the proposed reclamation plan.


Information from Atlas Mill Reclamation Task Force

(reprinted here with permission)

We've been on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) case about the Atlas tailings since 1990. I'm the Chairman of the Atlas Mill Reclamation Task Force, also President of a small local 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit which has been pursuing Atlas cleanup as a project.

Basically, what we have here is something George Orwell would understand. The NRC's August, 1990, regulations state that the ideal reclamation of uranium tailings is below grade, away from population, in a seismically stable area, where the tailings are isolated from water and air for at least 200 and preferably 1,000+ years. The Atlas tailings stand 110 feet above grade over 130 acres on the flood plain of the Colorado River and Moab Wash, bisected nicely by the geologically-active Moab Fault, next door to the City of Moab and the Visitor's Center for Arches National Park. The pile is leaking alpha radioactive material into the Colorado at levels 1,300 times above the EPA Maximum Concentration Limit, which are also exceeded by several heavy metals in the leachate. Capping the pile in place will have no effect on this leaching for at least 66 years according to Atlas's own engineering contractor.

Naturally, the NRC sees no problem with capping the thing in place with some expensive rock armor hauled in over a dangerous road which isn't up to it. As I see it, they're basically in a bunker mentality because they approved the capping-in-place plan for this Title II site in 1982 before anybody knew the fault was active, and well before they adopted their tailings reclamation regulations in 1990. They don't want to admit they goofed and that the taxpayers are going to end up having to take on some $50 million more in reclamation expenses than was bargained for. (We're all agreed the Atlas Minerals Corporation should be held harmless for more than the cost of the original reclamation plan, which was done in good faith with the best information at the time. The Corporation would go bankrupt if asked for more money for reclamation, as they are teetering along the edge of Chaper 11 as is.)

Some locals including myself came up with an alternative reclamation plan involving an ideal geophysical site 23 kilometers north of the current tailings. The tailings could be moved there by rail at low speed, buried completely below grade in a Mancos Shale medium which is competent to contain the tailings without maintenance for 1,000,000+ years - which exceeds the radioactive life of the contents.

A bit of history: the original uranium reduction mill was built on the flood plain of the Colorado River, right across the former route of the Moab Wash, in 1956 by the UTEX Corporation, created by Charlie Steen, in order to process pitchblende ore from his Mi Vida Mine to supply the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission's nuclear weapons program. The mill was later purchased by the Atlas Minerals Corporation, and continued to supply the AEC until the government quit buying uranium for atomic weapons, whereupon Atlas rebuilt the mill to process vanadium-bearing uranium ores typical of the Uruvan Uranium Belt into fuel for atomic power plants. The commercial market for uranium collapsed in 1982 in the United States, but the Atlas Mill had contracts which kept it running until March, 1984. Most of the 1950s uranium mills which used unlined tailings piles went out of business when the AEC quit buying uranium for weapons. The Atlas tailings is to my knowledge the only AEC-era pile that ended up getting added to during the uranium fuel-producing commercial era, is unlined, and is sitting on a porous geological site where leachate goes directly into groundwater. According to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, it is the only Title II uranium tailings site in the U.S. which is located on a site which appears to be seismically unstable.

Cost of the reclamation project: The current Atlas proposal involves the quarrying, transportation, and placement of some unusually large basalt rock armor to resist erosion from floods of the Colorado River and the Moab Wash (which three years ago washed away U.S. Highway 191 opposite the Arches National Park Visitor's Center in a flood). This armor is much more expensive to obtain and place than that typically installed in less vulnerable sites, yet the Atlas cost estimates are much lower. In the meeting with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on February 28, 1996, County Councilman Bill Hedden and Utah State Radiation Control Director Bill Sinclair both presented substantial information that indicates that the Atlas capping proposal will likely cost $36 million or more, rather than the range of $11-17 million which has been presented in recent documents.

These quotations are all for the total cost of the reclamation project. My figures from the Department of Energy (DOE) indicate the portion of the tailings which was accrued supplying the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) nuclear weapons program is 55.75%. Thus, under provisions in the Energy Act of 1992, the DOE will reimburse Atlas for 55.75% of the cost of reclamation on the site. Atlas is making a fuss because they have a surety of $6.5 million posted against the reclamation costs. $6.5 million is 44.25% of $14,689,260. If the final reclamation approved by the NRC costs $36 million, for example, then Atlas would be required to increase its surety by $9,430,000. The company, which has quit the uranium business and entered the gold mining business in the Carlin Trend in Nevada, currently has its only mine on standby. The Atlas management has been clear that, if they were asked for more than about an additional $1 million in surety, they would declare bankruptcy. [...]

Association for the Tree of Life- ATL
Richard Lance Christie
P.O.Box 166, Moab, UT 84532, USA
Tel. +1-801-259-5095, E-mail:

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