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The Department of Energy has given the green light to a massive cleanup project that will remove a mountain of radioactive garbage that sits on the banks of the Colorado River. The Colorado is the main water supply for 28 million people, including most of Southern Nevada.
However, the cleanup will take ten years, and until it's completed, toxic poisons will continue to flow into the river. Should we be worried? George Knapp of the I-Team has followed this story since the '90s and has this update.
The gigantic pile of uranium tailings near Moab, Utah has been leaking up to 120,000 gallons per day into the river. For a long time, the plan was to put a cap on it and leave it there. DOE has decided to move it, in part, so that a gigantic flood doesn't wash the whole pile into the river. There was near unanimous support for moving the pile along the Colorado River, with the exception of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Twelve million tons of radioactive gunk spread over 140 acres will one day be riding the rails. The pile of uranium tailings will be moved to a site 30 miles from the Colorado River. An aerial view shows the pile is much closer to the river at present. Everyday, tens of thousands of gallons of groundwater contaminated with radioactivity, mercury, arsenic, and more pour into the river, creating a zone of death.
County Councilmember Joette Langianese was part of the eclectic coalition that convinced the Department of energy to move the pile rather than the alternative, which was to put a cap over the pile and leave it on the riverbank. Environmentalists, politicians, and water officials from six states pushed for the removal of the pile but there was one glaring exception.
Bill Hedden said, "We didn't mean the Southern Nevada Water Authority." Hedden of the Grand Canyon Trust says the Southern Nevada Water Authority is the only water agency on the Colorado River that did not get involved in the fight. "I guess people in Nevada feel they have their own problems about water supply and they didn't want to alarm people by mentioning there was another problem with their source water, that it would be better not to mention it at all," Hedden continued.
Liangianese commented, "Surprising. I mean, we couldn't understand why they couldn't get on board with us."
Pat Mulroy, Southern Nevada Water Authority chief, bristles at the suggestion her agency didn't get involved. She says the water authority closely monitored the debate but felt the decision should be made by Utah. "We watched it. We watched the science. We read every report. We know what the arguments are for moving it and for capping it, but to put a soundbite out would not have been helpful."
Nevertheless, Nevada Senator Harry Reid and Governor Kenny Guinn were directly involved, according to the Utah coalition, and lent their political muscle to the fight, as did water authorities in Arizona and Southern California. Mulroy emphasizes that no measurable increases in radiation have been found in Lake Mead.
Why doesn't the radiation get from there to here? The I-Team asked the same question seven years ago. The answer, in a word, is dilution. The poisons get diluted in the river.
The I-Team inquired, "It's in the silt, in the rocks, where is it?"
Kay Brothers, with SNWA, replied, "It's diluted."
Walt Dabney, with the National Park Service, responded, "It's diluted and won't bother you. I don't know, that's not reassuring to me."
Moab leaders say they've already had to fight off an attempt in Washington to divert the cleanup money and that if all goes according to schedule, the pile will be gone in about 11 years, regardless of who pitched in.
Bill Hedden concludes, "In the end it wasn't necessary and the people of Nevada benefit anyway."
Pat Mulroy, who previously traveled to Moab to see the pile, says radiation levels in Lake Mead are far below federal health and safety standards and that locals should not be concerned whatsoever.