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Matheson Accuses Energy Secretary of Foot-Dragging Reinforces Tailings Cleanup Deadline

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Matheson Accuses Energy Secretary of Foot-Dragging Reinforces Tailings Cleanup Deadline

Congressman Jim Matheson today pressed Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Samuel Bodman concerning the lack of progress in removing the 16 million ton Atlas radioactive tailings pile near Moab. Matheson is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee which Wednesday held a hearing on DOE's spending plans for the coming fiscal year.

"Every aspect of moving this project along seems to get ‘slow-walked' by DOE," said Matheson. "Now I am hearing that at the DOE field office level, my requirement that the tailings cleanup conclude by 2019 is seen as a ‘soft deadline'. I'm not satisfied with DOE's lack of progress and neither are a bipartisan group of lawmakers who represent downstream water users."

The environmental decision to move the pile—a toxic relict of the atomic era-- came in September 2005, after more than 10 years of study. Scientists pointed out that it was a question of "when, not if" a major flood washes the radioactive waste into the river, contaminating the water and the river corridor downstream. Studies also indicate that pollution from the pile has migrated under the river, towards the town of Moab's water supply.

When pressed by Matheson, Secretary Bodman admitted that the Moab tailings cleanup is considered less of a priority than other long-running cleanup projects such as Hanford, Washington and Savannah River. This year's DOE budget proposes $30.5 million towards the Moab tailings project.

Matheson also questioned Bodman about the lack of progress on determining what transportation method will be used. The federal Record of Decision identifies rail as the primary option, but local DOE officials have gotten bogged down in a discussion over whether to truck the waste to the disposal cell that will be constructed 33 miles north of the site. Matheson cited that as more foot-dragging by the agency.

"I intend to hold DOE accountable for meeting this cleanup schedule. The whole history of this project suggests that DOE doesn't see delay as a problem and I will continue to remind them that the health and safety of Utahns as well as more than 25 million people downstream, is a priority," said Matheson.

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