AW: [ RadSafe ] Obit for Charlie Steen, the uranium king

Philip Egidi pvegidi at
Tue Mar 21 10:04:48 CST 2006

Yes, I know.  I worked for the contractor (ORNL Grand Junction Office)
that did the drilling and characterization of the site for the Fish and
Wildlife Service that found additional source terms the NRC
characterization did not (such as a bone yard), showed the size of the
ammonia plume (it is very wide as it hits the Colorado River), and
issued the report that arguably led politically to the change from Title
II to Title I.   I worked in the same office at the same time, but not
directly on that project, other than to peer review the reports
internally before they were released.  Nonetheless, I was witness to
that work.

I still personally maintain that a primary driver for the way
Atlas/Moab ended up was the way NRC was played by Atlas with respect to
surety.  If memory serves me correct, NRC agreed to limited surety (~$7
million) providing that Atlas would commit to decommissioning the site
(whether on-site stabilization or offsite, or another alternative was
not determined yet).  Atlas maintained that the site could be
stabilized, and that remediation was not needed.  NRC did not
necessarily disagree with Atlas.  The community was divided.  For
example, the late Edd Wren lived in Moab, and was against moving the
pile.  About 10 days after that agreement was signed between Altas and
NRC, Atlas declared bankruptcy and walked, leaving NRC with the orphaned
site and only $7 Million in surety.  NRC hired a trustee to manage the
site/surety, and they burned through the $7 million in a couple years on
gw studies (some may argue to disprove the ORNL/FWS report) and site
maintenance.  Secretary of Energy Richardson and Congress made the
transfer of the site to DOE happen due to political pressure of having
this site adjacent to Arches National Park, residents who saw what
happened at other communities with abandoned uranium mills, pressure
from downstream users of the River, and other local/regional pressures. 
The additional data we reported was very important to the process, but
one needs to follow the money (as is often the case) to get an
understanding of what ultimately drives decisions (including RODs).  

NRC has had other negative experiences with surety that have led to
legacy sites.  It is one of the topics they discuss in SECY-03-069, and
is being partially addressed in the Supplement to NUREG-1757, of which
the comment period just ended.  

See ya,

>>> "Orthen, Rick" <rorthen at> 03/21/06 07:12AM >>>

While there is no doubt the radiological aspect of the Atlas legacy
potentially affected human health (e.g., some of the tailings were
during building construction), uranium is but one of 5 constituents of
potential concern present in the tailings pile and groundwater (the
others are ammonia, copper, sulfate, and manganese).  In the NRC's
EIS, the preferred alternative was to stabilize the tailings pile in
place, but this analysis ignored the seepage of contaminated
into the adjacent Colorado River.  When this deficiency was noted by
US Fish & Wildlife Service (USF&WS) as endangering four fish species
critical habitat, the alternatives were revisited with the record of
decision as it is today (offsite relocation of the tailings and
groundwater remediation).

According to the Moab, UT UMTRA Project website, as of February 2006,
over 1.2 million gallons of tailings pore fluid has been removed for
evaporation.  This fluid contained over 65,000 kg of ammonia and 65 kg
of uranium and is no longer available for release into groundwater.
Coincidently, nearly 37 million gallons of groundwater has been
extracted containing 330 kg of uranium and 95,000 kg of ammonia.

Rick Orthen
CEC Inc.

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