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.
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. 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
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. 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.
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