Matheson fights to keep Moab uranium tailings clean up on schedule
Congressman Jim Matheson proposed an amendment on Tuesday to restore some funding to a Department of Energy uranium waste cleanup program that covers the massive uranium mill tailings pile on the Colorado River near Moab.
Matheson's amendment was offered during House debate on HR 5325, an annual spending bill to fund the Department of Energy in the coming fiscal year.
Matheson's amendment would subtract $9.6 million from the National Nuclear Security Administration's nuclear weapons account and add it to the DOE's non-defense environmental cleanup account.
"The health and safety of Utahns, as well as 25 million users of the Colorado River downstream, remains at risk, as long as the radioactive tailings pile continues to contaminate the river and the groundwater," said Matheson. "Recent progress is now slowing to a crawl, because the federal government's actions suggest they view this site as a low priority."
Matheson recently sent a letter to the Energy Secretary, questioning DOE's award of a five-year contract for removal of only 3.1 million tons of tailings. Matheson's letter contrasts that decision with management activity between February 2009 and February of 2012, when five million of the 16 million tons of tailings were safely removed to an environmentally secure long-term storage area.
Matheson highlighted a House Appropriation Committee's report which says "the Committee remains concerned about the lack of remediation activity taking place around the country at various...small sites classified as under the responsibility of the Department."
"I understand that while there are many sites where environmental clean-up funds are needed, an important fact about the Moab project is that there is an end in sight. An aggressive effort to complete the project by my deadline of October 2019 supports public health and safety and is a more fiscally responsible use of taxpayer funds," Matheson said.
If the project is not fully funded then it will have to shut down for three months out of the year, idling the workers and the equipment during that time. The equipment would be unable to go to another job site without a complete decontamination procedure. Any work stoppage at the site would put several workers from Green River out of a job during the down time.