Rich Bush, DOE Site Manager, explains the Grand Junction, Colorado, Disposal Site to Colorado Mesa University students.
DOE Site Manager Rich Bush explains the Enhanced Cover Assessment Project to Colorado Mesa University students while standing next to one of LM’s Systems Operation and Analysis at Remote Sites locations, which collects data remotely and transmits it to LM servers daily.
A partnership with Colorado Mesa University (CMU) in Grand Junction, Colorado, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently provided a chance for CMU students and their instructor to visit the Grand Junction, Colorado, Disposal Site with DOE Site Manager, Rich Bush. Although this was not the first time CMU students had visited the site, it was the first time since DOE and CMU signed an education agreement that both parties hope will give students the opportunity to contribute to ongoing studies being conducted at the site.
In support of Goal 4, the Office of Legacy Management (LM) is currently conducting real property reuse activities at LM sites throughout the country. While reuse options can include renewable energy–related development or agricultural uses, it has been the goal of Deborah Barr, DOE Reuse Program Manager, to expand the range of reuse opportunities to include educational agreements with academic institutions and to explore the possibilities for students to learn about technical and environmental issues facing LM through field activities at appropriate LM sites.
One such site is the Grand Junction disposal site, located approximately 18 miles southeast of Grand Junction. Part of the disposal site was completed in 1994; the rest of the cell remains open until it is filled to capacity with Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act radioactive waste or until 2023, whichever comes first. A major impetus behind establishment of the new reuse agreement was the recognition by Deborah Barr, Rich Bush, and Dr. Russ Walker, Department Chair, Physical and Environmental Sciences at CMU, that this site could serve as a potential field laboratory for CMU students in the Environmental Science Program to have a significant real-world learning experience.
There were thousands of properties in Grand Junction where tailings were used for construction or fill material before the health threat from escaping radon gas was fully recognized. The State of Colorado and DOE cleaned up over 4,000 properties, removing the materials and moving them to the Grand Junction disposal site. This removal action significantly reduced the potential for radiation exposure to the residents of Grand Junction.
Because there are a number of vicinity properties, including utility corridors, that remain in Grand Junction, the disposal cell will remain open. As the City continues to repair roads and more tailings-contaminated soils are encountered, the contaminated material will be properly disposed of at the site. The Grand Junction disposal cell was also where contaminated soils cleaned up from the Highway 160 Site on the Navajo Nation in Arizona were disposed of in 2011.
On a recent visit to the site with CMU students, Rich Bush showed pictures of the downtown mill site before and after remediation and discussed with the students why DOE chose to move the mill tailings away from the Colorado River and the population center. The decision to move the tailings was made in consultation with the State of Colorado, which shared in the cost of the relocation and construction. The cleaned up former processing site was located in Grand Junction and is now owned by the City. The site includes a bike path open to the public.
During the visit, the students compared and contrasted the municipal solid waste landfill nearby, contrasting the differences between the methods of disposal, the designs, and the risks being mitigated in each case. As a follow-up, Dr. Walker had the students describe in an essay what differences they saw and what the risks would be for a population if the uranium mill tailings had been left in place next to the Colorado River, if they were used as construction materials, and if they were relocated to the Grand Junction disposal site as they were. Emphasis was given to the issue of risk versus benefit and how to balance the costs to decrease the risk of exposure to people and the environment by isolating the tailings through: 1) disposal in place; or 2) relocation.
The Grand Junction disposal site provides CMU faculty and students an opportunity to learn about surface reclamation, the disposal cell cover performance studies, and vegetation and environmental monitoring. Students can also participate in field activities for groundwater sampling and vegetation monitoring.
Students can shadow DOE scientists and engineers, providing valuable field experience on equipment use, determining groundwater flow directions from triangulated level measurements, and chemical data analysis and trending. Students will also consider specific risks from different exposure scenarios and how to mitigate them.
For example, CMU students may be involved with studies at the disposal site through DOE’s Environmental Sciences Laboratory, with a continuing study of treatments for the Enhanced Cover Assessment Project. DOE constructed facilities at the disposal site to evaluate cover enhancement methods and cover performance. One of the facilities is a test pad that was planted in 2011 to evaluate the effects of vegetation on cover performance. One of the tasks for CMU students may be to help plan and participate in an evaluation of the effort, such as evaluating different combinations of plant species and planting methods.
To allow entry for all CMU visitors, Dr. Laura Kilpatrick, LM Senior Realty Officer, developed a license intended to define where the visitors are allowed to go (always under DOE and/or Legacy Management Support staff escort) and to ensure safe activities while at the site. Dr. Kilpatrick worked closely with CMU to ensure they were satisfied with the provisions of the agreement while still providing LM with the necessary documentation.
The agreement with CMU provides opportunities for students to learn through more direct experience in the field. They will learn about technical and environmental issues impacting the region, add to their college education with field experience, and gain insight into potential college studies and career tracks.