updated 9/14/2005 12:54:05 PM ET 2005-09-14T16:54:05

The Energy Department cleared the way Wednesday for almost 12 million tons of radioactive waste to be moved from the banks of the Colorado River, which provides drinking water for more than 25 million people across the West.

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman announced that a record of decision had been signed, formalizing the government’s plan, which had been announced earlier this year.

The 94-foot-tall pile of uranium tailings — radioactive material leftover from uranium mining — is located three miles northwest of the city of Moab in Grand County, Utah. The tailings will be moved, predominantly by rail, to the proposed Crescent Junction, Utah, site, more than 30 miles from the Colorado River.

The threat of the tailings leaching into the Colorado River was heightened by January flooding in southern Utah.

Moab’s rich uranium deposits were mined in the 1950s for nuclear bombs. The Uranium Reduction Co. sold its mill in 1962 to Atlas Corp., which ran it sporadically until declaring bankruptcy in 1998. The Energy Department took over the site in 2001. The Moab Project Site covers about 400 acres and includes a 130-acre uranium mill tailings pile that occupies much of the western portion.

“Today’s announcement shows that through hard work and cooperative efforts great progress can be made,” Bodman said in a statement. “This decision demonstrates our commitment to fulfilling our Cold War cleanup obligations as well as preserving the long-term environmental health of the river and the many communities it serves.”

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