Discovery of Uranium
In 1952 in a remote corner of southeastern Utah, an out of work geologist by the name of Charlie Steen struck the largest deposit of high-grade uranium ore that had ever been found in the United States. His discovery came at a time when America was frantic for a domestic source of uranium and Steen’s strike set off a “uranium rush”.
To process this uranium Steen built the Uranium Reduction Company in 1956. By 1961 the facility, located on the shores of the Colorado River in Moab, Utah, required expansion in order to extract the yellowcake uranium that was in high demand by the Atomic Energy Commission. The wastes from the mill were slurried into an unlined pond on the floodplain of the river.
When more capacity was needed to store the waste, a larger bowl was bulldozed to contain the radioactive materials. The Uranium Reduction Company continued to operate the mill until 1962 when the assets were sold to Atlas.
End of Milling
Uranium concentrate, the milling product, was sold to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission through December 1970. During its years of operation, the mill processed an average of approximately 1,400 tons per day. Atlas operated the site until 1984, under a license and regulatory authority provided by NRC.
When the processing operations ceased in 1984, an estimated 16 million tons of uranium mill tailings and tailings-contaminated soil were present in an unlined impoundment located in the western portion of the property. Atlas placed an interim cover over the tailings pile in 1995 as part of ongoing decommissioning activities conducted between 1988 and 1995. Atlas proposed to reclaim the tailings pile for permanent disposal in its current location but declared bankruptcy in 1998 and, in doing so, relinquished its license and forfeited its reclamation bond.
Courtesy of Tom Till
Because NRC could not legally possess a site it regulated, NRC appointed
PricewaterhouseCoopers as the Trustee of the Moab Mill Reclamation
Trust and the licensee for the site. The Trustee used the forfeited
reclamation bond funds to initiate site reclamation, conduct ground
water studies, and perform site maintenance activities.
Cleaning Up the Moab Site
In October 2000, Congress and the President approved the Floyd D.
Spence National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2001, Public
Law 106–398 (the act). The act stipulated that the license issued by NRC
for the materials at the Moab site be terminated and that the title and
responsibility for cleanup be transferred to DOE (U.S. Department of
Energy). Title of the site was transferred to DOE on October 25, 2001.
Specifically, the DOE office in Grand Junction, Colorado, now has
primary responsibility for the Moab site.