Source: Salt Lake Tribune | Matthew Piper | February 21, 2017

photo courtesy Utah State Historical Society Tribune negative collection JD Moore works at Salt Lake City’s Vitro Chemical Plant in 1957

Opponents of a proposed Sugar House homeless shelter now have the option to go nuclear.

Salt Lake City has learned during the due diligence period for a $7 million land purchase that the site was once home to radioactive tailings from a long-shuttered uranium mill.

Documents indicate that the property near 653 E. Simpson Ave. was part of a nationwide federal cleanup ordered by Congress in the late 1970s, but landowner records don’t reveal the precise location of the tailings or the steps taken to remove them.

The city has requested additional records from the Department of Energy and will conduct at least two rounds of environmental review, said Mike Reberg, director of Salt Lake City’s Department of Community and Neighborhoods.

“What we know is there was some remediation done on this property,” he said. “It’s unclear exactly the extent of it.”

The 2.8-acre site is by far the most controversial of four chosen by city leaders for 150-bed shelters that they hope will be more conducive to helping people escape homelessness and less convenient for preying drug dealers.

Commercial tenants at 653 E. Simpson include a popular day care, and the site abuts a neighborhood where homeowners have expressed fears of diminished safety and property values. Others have expressed sticker shock at the $7 million cost.

The city has the option to terminate the deal at any time during its due diligence period, which lasts until April. Reberg said Mayor Jackie Biskupski has requested an environmental review “to clean up the mystery” related to the uranium remediation.

Carcinogenic tailings, a byproduct of uranium milling, were sometimes used in construction during the heyday of the nuclear arms race. Millions of tons of the stuff were piled high at mills and — thought safe — made a handy backfill for nearby building foundations.

“It was a nice, uniform, fine-grain sand that was easy to deal with,” said Rich White, a consulting civil and environmental engineer at Midvale-based EarthFax.

From 1951 to 1968, the Vitro Chemical Company, at 3300 South and about 600 West, processed uranium and vanadium ore for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

A 1996 report from the U.S. Department of Energy found that by the time Vitro closed, it had produced nearly 5,000 tons of concentrated yellowcake and 4 million tons of tailings.

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