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The U.S. Department of Energy says it will try to finish the Moab tailings cleanup by 2019.
The completion date, set by Congress, comes six to 10 years earlier than the DOE had previously projected for the $1 billion cleanup, which involves removing a uranium mill waste pile that was leaching uranium and hazardous chemicals into a water source used by about 30 million people.
DOE Assistant Director for Environmental Management Inés Triay pointed to the congressional deadline in a June 7 letter to Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.
"We're encouraged," said Matheson spokeswoman Alyson Heyrend, "by the fact that they are recognizing there's a 2019 deadline they are supposed to meet."
What changed? Stimulus funds boosted efficiency at the site by 23 percent, Triay said. The department was able to move an additional 2.6 million tons of uranium tailings.
A cleanup manager said last week the work is now on track to finish by 2025.
Triay wrote that her agency "will continue to look for ways to be more efficient, using available funds, to shorten the duration of the project."
"Should DOE determine the 2019 deadline cannot be met," she said, "the department [will] submit a revised plan to Congress with the projected completion deadline and the estimated funding, as provided" by the 2008 federal law.
The 130-acre pile sits on the edge of the Colorado River outside of Moab. About 4 million of the 16 million tons have been hauled by rail to a disposal site 30 miles north, at Crescent Junction.
DOE is expected to lay off around 120 of the more than 300 people who were employed at the site while stimulus funds were available. Another 50 have already found other jobs.
Triay also said her agency was on track to award a new, five-year contract on the tailings cleanup by the end of the year. Until now, EnergySolutions Inc., a nuclear cleanup company based in Salt Lake City, has been the primary contractor and used the $108 million in stimulus funds to accelerate its work.