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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The U.S. Department of Energy said it will speed up the removal of 16 million tons of uranium tailings from the banks of the Colorado River near Moab by using trucks instead of improving a railroad to haul the stuff away.
Locals originally frowned on the idea of heavy truck traffic hauling radioactive tailings along a 30-mile section of U.S. Highway 191, but federal officials say the road has been widened and improved.
New estimates for a rail upgrade, meanwhile, made that more expensive.
The decision to use trucks is "a step forward in fulfilling our Cold War cleanup obligations by moving the tailings pile in a safe and expeditious manner," DOE assistant secretary for environmental management Jim Rispoli said in a statement issued on Friday.
Utah's congressional delegation applauded the move because it puts the DOE project into action and means the hauling could be done by 2019 instead of 2025 or later, a delay Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman warned about nearly a year ago.
Others were willing to tolerate the choice.
"It accomplishes the objective, but in doing so, it unnecessarily diminishes the safety of travelers along 191," said Mark Clemens, manager of the Sierra Club's Utah chapter.
Salt Lake City-based EnergySolutions Inc. has a federal contract to design and install a dump on a mesa top at Crescent Junction, Utah, for the uranium tailings.
The pile covers 130 acres at the edge of the Colorado River, a source of drinking water for more than 25 million people downstream.
It was left by a uranium processing mill that was operated by Charlie Steen's Atlas Mineral Corp., which closed the mill in 1984 and filed for bankruptcy in 1998.
Two years later the Energy Department took control of the site and initially set a goal of removing the waste by 2012.
DOE officials said they will continue to divert and clean groundwater moving from the site before it leaks into the Colorado River.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)