It’s official – workers will begin relocating the Atlas uranium mill tailings on April 20, said Don Metzler, Department of Energy project manager for the Moab project. And new federal stimulus funding announced Tuesday could mean many more jobs will be available as soon as the end of this year, Metzler said.
DOE representatives and project contractor EnergySolutions told the Moab Tailings Committee last week that the first train will leave the tailings site north of Moab almost a full month ahead of schedule. They also assured the committee that the project will be safe and that both workers and community face very little risk from radiation exposure.
“You will know the same day that we know,” if any air quality reading seriously exceeds the limit, if any worker is exposed to danger, or if something unforeseen happens, Metzler said.
He also sought to assure MTC members that the contractors will take every precaution in dealing with any dangerous materials that may be buried in the 16 million-ton tailings pile.
“If we hit anything we can’t identify we stop work immediately,” Metzler said.
The $108 million in stimulus funding announced Tuesday could enable contractors to increase the capacity of the trains that will transport the tailings by 50 percent as soon as 2010 instead of by 2012 as originally planned, Metzler said.
In order to do that the project will not only have to buy more railroad cars and tailings containers two years ahead of schedule, it will have to start hiring more workers beginning late this year. While the number of additional workers is not clear Metzler said as many as 150 additional jobs could be created.
The Crescent Junction disposal site is almost ready to receive the material, according to Larry Brede of EnergySolutions, and work at the tailings site and on the railroad siding above the site is nearly complete. Union Pacific is installing traffic barriers at major crossings at the road to Dead Horse Point and the Mill Canyon Road. Warning signals are being installed at less busy crossings, Brede said.
Brede said 15,000 railroad ties will be installed to replace the older existing ties. That work will take about seven days, he said.
A large part of the meeting was devoted to a presentation by Metzler on how thoroughly the project is monitoring air quality at the tailings site, the disposal area, and in Moab and Spanish Valley. While there have been some readings at a few points on the site that exceed limits, those readings have been minor and short-lived, even though the pile has been “open” for five weeks, Metzler said.
Metzler assured the committee that readings from monitors set up at the property of the “most exposed individuals” have all been well below the limits. He said that the dust that rose from the site during recent windstorms did not come from the tailings pile, but from the ground around it.
Regarding employment it is not known how many of the project’s current 125 workers are local, but several committee members remarked on seeing familiar faces. Metzler said that local residents have recently been promoted to important managerial positions. New workers will be hired through the Department of Workforce Services.
For the remainder of this year, the project work will be done in four 10-hour shifts, Monday through Thursday. A train with 22 cars hauling four containers each will leave the site about 4 p.m. on those days, Metzler said. Once the project is expanded the train will grow to 34 cars hauling 136 containers. The additional workers will work three 12-hour shifts, Friday through Sunday.
An added benefit from the stimulus package, Metzler said, is that it may pay for building an overpass across the Potash Road so that motorists will not have to stop for the trucks hauling the containers from the site to the railroad siding.
The full report along with a regular posting of air quality readings can be found at www.moabtailings.org.