Fortunately for tourism boosters, Moab has never gotten the fear inspiring press coverage that Three Mile Island or Yucca Mountain have, but the radioactive waste stored near there on the banks of the Colorado River deserves it, despite the fact that this is not the "high level" nuclear waste found at the other two sites. Downstream from Moab are both Las Vegas and Las Angeles (via water projects). A hardly unprecedented flood in the Colorado River could plunge this radioactive waste into this watershed bring the waste close to large human populations, perhaps even into drinking or irrigation water, and exposing fish eaten by local sportsmen.
Coyote Gulch reports on a long belated plan to relocate this waste to a better location by rail (emphasis added).
[The Department of Energy] already has extracted 487,000 pounds of ammonia and 2,100 pounds of uranium from the 130-acre pile, which many people worry might be washed into the Colorado, a source of drinking water for 50 million people.... By rail, there will be one shipment a day, with 17 cars carrying 68 containers for the first three years.
More than 18,000 rail cars of radioactive waste tailings is nothing to sniff at, and an engorged Colorado River could move that waste very fast. We are talking about multiple tons of uranium here mixed into this huge slag pile.
In contrast, Three Mile Island had a containment system that worked, so the worst U.S. nuclear power plant accident ever caused was no harmful contamination outside the plant.
Yucca Mountain likewise would have carefully planned containment and require events orders of magnitude less plausible than a Colorado River flood to pose a serious threat to people or wildlife. Yucca Moutain is also as isolated from immediately local population centers as Moab. With nuclear waste, the danger to populations very close to the radiation source matter much more than large but distant populations (like Salt Lake City with respect to Moab waste, or Las Vegas with respect to Yucca Mountain waste) because radiation intensity declines in proportion to the square of distance from the source.
For example, radiation is 100 times weaker at 10 miles away from the source than at 1 mile from the source, and 10,000 times weaker at 100 miles away from the source, than 1 mile from the source. Likewise, the intensity at 528 feet is 100 times as great as at 1 mile, the intensity at 53 feet is 10000 time as intense as at 1 mile, and the intensity at 5 feet, 4 inches is 1,000,000 times as intense as at 1 mile.
Further, because uranium has such a long half life, it has fairly low intensity radiation even at the source compared to some radioactive materials. One might think of it as a slow steady burn, the nuclear equivalent of a burning peat swamp or underground coal fire, rather than an intense powerful burn like a prairie fire.
Entry of nuclear waste into the fast moving watershed of the Colorado River could bring waste much closer to people than unlikely events like the entry of nuclear waste into much slower moving groundwater aquifers in the middle of nowhere not used widely for human consumption near Yucca Mountain.
The American West should breath easier when the work is done and the threat is reduced.