The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Legacy Management (LM) co-hosted, with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a week of visits to DOE sites in Colorado and Utah, and a 4-day workshop in Grand Junction, Colorado. More than 30 visitors from 20 countries attended the event in August 2012. The IAEA International Workshop on Management and Regulatory Oversight of Uranium Legacy Sites: Perspectives from Regulators and Operators was part of an IAEA program whose objective is to help “member state” countries develop effective programs to remediate and provide postclosure care of contaminated sites around the world associated principally with uranium production during the Cold War. In addition, for participants from countries with operating mines and mills, the program provided insights on avoiding the creation of new legacy sites in the future. The IAEA, headquartered in Vienna, Austria, is a branch of the United Nations, whose mission is the responsible and peaceful use of nuclear science and technologies. Having the workshop in Grand Junction was by design since it lies within the Colorado Plateau, the major region from which uranium has been mined and milled in the U.S. Workshop participants travelled by bus to sites in eastern Utah, including the White Mesa Mill at Blanding, the only uranium mill operating in the U.S., and the remediated former mill sites in Monticello and Green River. A special event was a visit to Moab, where DOE is moving approximately 16 million tons of mill tailings from the former Atlas mill site in Moab by train 30 miles north to a disposal cell being constructed at Crescent Junction. Federal and contractor staff of the Moab Project provided a close-up view of the ongoing cleanup. In Colorado, the workshop participants visited the former mill sites and the disposal cell at Rifle, and the disposal cell in Grand Junction, which is still open to receive mill tailings from “vicinity properties.” The sites at Monticello, Green River, Rifle, and Grand Junction are all now part of LM’s long-term surveillance and maintenance (LTS&M) program and the White Mesa Mill will eventually transfer to LM once operations cease and cleanup is complete.
For visitors from countries of Central Asia, including Tajikstan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, visiting remediated legacy uranium sites on the Colorado Plateau had an added benefit. These countries were once part of the Soviet Union and were major sources of uranium for it during the Cold War. Now independent, these countries are left with large uranium legacy sites today in environments similar to those in this part of the western U.S. Following the site visits, the workshop was held at the LM Grand Junction office. In addition to participation by DOE staff and contractors, representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the State of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment made presentations at the workshop and provided their perspective on setting standards and regulating the cleanup of uranium mill sites in the U.S. under the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act (UMTRCA). In addition to lessons learned from the UMTRCA program, workshop participants from Canada, Australia, Russia, France, and Germany, among others, made presentations on the regulatory framework and cleanup of uranium legacy sites in their countries.
One afternoon of the workshop was dedicated to presentations and discussions on LTS&M, site reuse and institutional controls, and records management, all responsibilities of LM for uranium and other remediated legacy sites in the U.S. IAEA wanted to highlight the mission of LM to help participants better understand what challenges they will have after remediation to assure that sites continue to protect the public and the environment. A topic of particular interest to many participants is LM’s program of beneficial reuse of sites. During visits to Monticello, Rifle, and Grand Junction, workshop participants were able to see examples of former mill processing sites now being used for recreation and renewable energy generation, among other uses.
For the workshop participants, the two weeks were sprinkled with activities to give them a chance to see some of the natural beauty of the area and experience some western hospitality. While in Moab, the group spent an evening in Arches National Park, and the Tuesday night workshop dinner was a barbeque in Colorado National Monument. Also, a Sunday afternoon was spent at the annual Peach Festival in Palisade, Colorado. Reaction from the participants was unanimously positive. LM continues to support this IAEA effort through ongoing meetings and expects to be able to participate in additional technical exchanges.