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Project on Government Oversight

POGO Urges DOE to do the "right thing" and save the Colorado River … Again

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February 23, 2005

Sent to moabcomments@gjo.doe.gov
Hard copy to follow

Mr. Don Metzler
Moab Federal Project Director
U.S. Department of Energy
2597 B3/4 Road
Grand Junction , Colorado 81503

RE: Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the "Remediation of the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings, Grand and San Juan Counties , Utah "

Dear Mr. Metzler:

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) investigates, exposes, and seeks to remedy systemic abuses of power, mismanagement, and subservience by the federal government to powerful special interests.  Founded in 1981, POGO is a politically-independent, nonprofit watchdog that strives to promote a government that is accountable to the citizenry.  POGO appreciates the opportunity to comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the "Remediation of the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings, Grand and San Juan Counties , Utah " (69 Fed. Reg. 70,257 (2004)).  POGO vehemently requests that the government relocate the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings to a safe location.

Since the late-1990's, POGO has voiced concerns about the government's plan to decommission the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings – located in a 130-acre unlined pile about 750 feet from the Colorado River.  At that time the tailings pile was the jurisdiction of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). 

In 1999, POGO released its report NRC Sells Environment Down the River, which confirmed that the Atlas Corporation, the polluter that owned the Moab site, had bullied the NRC into accepting a cleanup plan that would have saved the company millions of dollars.  That plan, however, fell far short of government and public safety standards.  The NRC considered capping the nearly 12 million tons of uranium mill wastes at its current location rather than moving it to a safe location.

As you probably know, studies showed that merely capping the 130-acre tailings pile would allow the continued contamination of the ecosystem in and around the now defunct mill.  The leaching from the tailings pile has negatively affected the Colorado River .  Additionally, the pile is only 10-15 feet above an aquifer, is situated on the flood plane of the Colorado , and is filled with radioactive uranium, ammonia, molybdenum, aluminum, iron, nitrates, and sulfates that are contaminating groundwater that feeds into the river.  Specifically, groundwater from the Moab site would continue to seep into the Colorado River , the source of drinking water for more than 25 million residents in California and Arizona and home to several endangered species of fish.

In 2000, POGO and many conservation groups pushed for and won their battle to have the jurisdiction of the tailing pile moved to the Department of Energy (DOE), which possessed the required experience in moving similar sites.

Now DOE is in the same position that the NRC was in nearly ten years ago – a drawn out decision to cap or relocate the uranium tailings.  The current DEIS states that relocation of the uranium tailings pile will cost from $329 to $464 million, which is a far cry from the NRC's and Atlas' estimates in the late-1990s that relocating the tailings pile would cost $60 to $114 million.  After years of delay and debate on relocation verses capping the uranium tailing pile at its current location, the taxpayer is left holding a ballooning bill in a financially restrictive budget crisis.  More disturbing is the fact that radioactive and toxic waste is still affecting the Colorado River and the drinking water for the 25 million people who live downstream.  DOE must do the right thing and end the debate.

As a government watchdog POGO does not often encourage the spending of tax dollars, but in this case it is clearly worth the investment.  POGO urges DOE to consider these comments and relocate the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings to a safe location – a location that is both safe for the environment and the public.

Sincerely,

Danielle Brian
Executive Director