Skip to Main Content
Project on Government Oversight




Moab Uranium Tailings Pile on the Colorado River Fact Sheet

March 1, 1999 


The Problem

The Atlas Corporation's uranium tailings pile in Moab, Utah currently the fifth largest in the United States contains approximately 10.5 million tons of uranium mill wastes, including 426 million gallons of highly- contaminated liquid which is seeping from the unlined site. This 130-acre site is contaminating the groundwater feeding into the Colorado River with radioactive uranium and other toxins.

Toxins leaking from the Moab tailings pile travel down river, contaminating the source of drinking water for approximately 25 million people (7% of the U.S. population) in Arizona, Nevada and Southern California. Uranium content in groundwater near the Moab site is 530 times higher than EPA standards for groundwater at uranium tailings piles.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has been acquiescing to the Atlas Corporation's efforts to limit the Moab site clean-up expense. The NRC is going along with Atlas's proposed plan of capping the tailings covering them with rock and sand instead of moving the tailings away from the Colorado River. Atlas is liable for clean-up costs, but is currently filing for bankruptcy and has filed a motion to abandon the site.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory's (ORNL) 1998 report calculated that even if Atlas Corporation's plan is implemented, the highly-contaminated liquid will leak into the Colorado River for approximately the next 270 years.

The NRC admits that ". . . the high financial cost of moving the tailings may be the only significant disadvantage . . . ." Unfortunately, Atlas does not even have the resources to meet its commitment to do the minimal cleanup of capping the site in place, contrary to their prior claims.

As contaminants continue to flow into the Colorado River, the NRC and other federal and State agencies, without direction from Congress, are restricted in their ability to relocate this dangerous source of pollution.

The Solution

The NRC should deny Atlas's plan because it does not meet the environmental standards set forth by federal law.

Moving the site to the alternate location identified by the Bureau of Land Management is supported by Department of the Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the National Park Service.

The FWS conclusion that "Congressional action or legislation would be required to move the pile to another location" makes it clear that legislative action is necessary.

Representatives George Miller (D-CA), Bob Filner (D-CA), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) have introduced H.R. 393 transferring the site from the jurisdiction of the NRC to the Department of Energy (DOE) in order to make removal of the site possible. Representative Chris Cannon (R-UT) is also planning to introduce legislation to relocate the Moab site.

All of the remaining un-reclaimed sites should be moved from the purview of the NRC to the DOE which has a successful track record with the clean-up of similar sites. Uranium concentration levels at Moab exceed 26 milligrams per liter, whereas DOE sites which contained groundwater uranium levels less than 2 milligrams per liter were moved for environmental safety reasons. 

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

# # #