On October 11, 2011, I drove from Moab, Utah to Grand Junction, Colorado. As I approached the Highway 191 Colorado River Bridge, I swung my camera to the left, and out the side window of my truck. Having refocused my digital camera, I started taking a series of “point and shoot” images. Most of my shots were of the Moab UMTRA nuclear cleanup site, better known as the Moab Pile.
After crossing the river, the highway swings south and then parallels the uranium mill tailing Superfund site. The Moab UMTRA site is a well-known emitter of nuclear radiation. Unknown to many in the area, it is also the largest dust-hazard in Grand County, Utah. Nowhere else will you find both nuclear and chemical waste exposed to the regional dust storms that now plague the Four Corners states.
If I remember correctly, the wind was relatively calm on October 11, 2011. Having studied the issue for years, little that I learn about the cleanup of the old Atlas Uranium Mill site surprises me. Still, I did not expect to see the event that unfolded right outside my window. There, on the top of the Moab Pile, a dust devil swirled and lifted a vortex of dust into the air.
Watch the video "Moab Pile Nuclear Dust Devil"
As I drove closer, my camera angle came closer to the sun. As it did, it captured an image of finer dust particles expanding above the twister. If you watch the YouTube video, you will see one frame in which that larger dust cloud shows itself in shades of lavender and violet. Just because something is not visible to the unaided eye does not mean that it may not be there. The Carl Zeiss lens on my Sony camera sometimes picks up light in unexpected ways, especially when it involves new energy.
Dust rising up from the Moab Pile, only to dump on the nearby Colorado River and on Moab is a common occurrence. During both my August and October 2011 visits to Moab, I have photographed large amounts of radioactive dust escaping from the UMTRA site. If I remember correctly, the Department of Energy (DOE) should be setting reasonable safety standards for the cleanup. However, toxic, nuclear dust clouds continue to emanate from the Moab UMTRA site on a regular basis. Does DOE or Moab UMTRA care about that?