Skip to Main Content
Project on Government Oversight




Moab Uranium Tailings Pile Fact Sheet

May 24, 2000 


General Information

  • Its located 3 miles outside of Moab, Utah the pile is situated 750 feet from the Colorado River. The pile is only 10-15 feet above the aquifer.
  • 130 acres or the size of 118 football fields it is the largest tailings pile situated on the banks of a river. Additionally, it is the fifth largest tailings pile in the United States.
  • Contains approximately 10.5 million tons of uranium mill wastes including 426 million gallons of highly-contaminated liquid. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory study shows that the steady rate of uranium tailing contaminant leakage into the Colorado River is estimated at 9,648 gallons per day (6.7 gallons per minute).
  • Radioactive uranium, ammonia, molybdenum, aluminum, iron, nitrates, and sulfates are contaminating groundwater which feeds into the Colorado River.
  • Situated on the flood plane of the Colorado, the river has flooded 26 times this century to the level of the tailings.
  • Uranium content in groundwater near the Moab site is 530 times higher than EPA standards for groundwater at uranium mill tailings piles.
  • Ammonia concentrations, a clear marker of mill contamination, rose by a factor of 166 at sampling sites in the Colorado River, and water level data from the tailings pile suggests concentrated ammonia will continue to seep into the groundwater.
  • 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 and Southern California.
  • The site is leaking 15,523 lbs/day of sodium into the Colorado River. The normal maximum amount allowed into the river is 2,000 lbs/per day. This excess is in violation of international treaties between the United States and Mexico.
  • The highly-contaminated groundwater will leak into the Colorado River for approximately the next 270 years.
  • Relocating the pile of uranium tailings is supported by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, and Utah Governor Mike Leavitt.
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in their final Environmental Impact Statement, estimated the cost of relocating the tailings at between $72 million and $103 million(March 1999) This is the most recent estimate with data to back up the numbers.

2000 Events

  • In February, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, announced a plan to move the Atlas uranium mill tailings pile away from the Colorado River. The plan involves an exchange of lands held by the Department of Interior with Ute Indians of Utah. A percentage of any realized monetary gains from the natural resources on the transferred lands would help offset the cost of moving the tailings pile. In order for this plan to move forward, Congress must approve it.
  • In April, Representatives Chris Cannon (R-UT) and George Miller (D-CA) introduced legislation in the House which, if passed, would move this process forward one more step. The bill, HR 4165 entitled the "Keep the Colorado River Clean Act," has been referred to the Commerce, Resources and Armed Services Committees. Currently, there are 59 cosponsors of the legislation.
  • In May, Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) introduced similar legislation to bill HR 4165, which would also enact Secretary Richardson's plan to move the tailings pile.

1999 Events

  • The now-bankrupt Atlas Corporation proposed capping the tailings - covering them with rock and sand - instead of moving the tailings away from the Colorado River. The NRC signed the license approving the proposed capping and recently named PricewaterhouseCooper the trustee of the site.
  • The NRC signed the license allowing the proposed capping to begin. However, Atlas must now receive the proper water license from the State of Utah.
  • After meeting with the Western Governors Association, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson committed the DOE to investigating the Moab site. Richardson appointed Senior Staffer to look into the site and report his findings.
  • At the end of July, a Congressional briefing about the Moab site was held by Representatives Napolitano (D-CA) and Cannon (R-UT).
  • On Earth Day 1999, Representative Cannon (R-UT) introduced legislation, HR 1559.  

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.

# # #