Moving a Mountain in Moab

Entrance Sign

It is about a 2 hour drive to Moab from Grand Junction.  Mark, one of the feds organized this trip for the interns and one of the new site managers on board.  (She spent many many years with the Yucca Mountain project, but we all know how that ended…).  We had the wonderful opportunity to meet with Don Metzler, a Level 4 Federal Project Director (there aren’t very many of those).  He oversees the billion dollar Moab UMTRA site.  The basic gist is that there is a 16 million ton pile of legacy uranium mill tailings sitting next to the Colorado River in Moab, UT.  Because of political factors and public concern it is being moved 30 miles north to Crescent Junction to be laid to rest in a disposal cell.   There is actually another USDOE office here in downtown Grand Junction, which I didn’t know about.  That is where Don sits with his staff; he is part of the Office of Environmental Management, not LM. Don is a very charismatic man and we were able to sit with him in the conference trailer in Moab and listen to the story of how this project manifested itself.  The public relations officer was also there to answer questions.  After hearing the story of the Moab UMTRA site, we hopped into an SUV and toured the site.  It was an amazing operation!

A Linde machine raising one of the containers

If the timeline is adhered to, it will probably take a decade to move 16 million tons of tailings 30 miles by rail.  The railroad and railcars are located on the side of the mountain above the tailings pile.  In order to load the train with filled containers, first, the containers are loaded onto the trucks, driven onto the pile, filled by excavators, and then driven up a left hand traffic road built specifically for this project, to be loaded onto the train by one of two gantry cranes.  I have never seen a gantry crane before, but it is huge! And it can pick up and move a load of 100,000 tons and make it look easy.

A Massive Gantry Crane

A View of the Tailings Pile from the Railroad

So far, 1 million tons have been moved to Crescent Junction and the second million tons should be relocated by the end of this year.  Movement first began in April of 2009.  This is really quite the project.  After that we went to Crescent Junction to look at the disposal cell.  There is not as much activity here as in Moab.  They excavate the cell, lay in the tailings and then put an interim cover over them in a synchronized fashion.  It started to rain heavily while we were there and it was getting close to closing time, so we headed out.  I am sure I got a once in a lifetime tour of an UMTRA site in action!

Here is the URL for more information about this site:

Red Tailings at the Disposal Cell

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