Soon after joining the Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) Project, I was sent to Washington, D.C. to meet with Ted Johnson of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency. I was scared. I mean: going to Washington to meet with the guru of the topic.

Turns out, he was a most genial and friendly person; gruff in the field, but always ready with a joke and a laugh as we trudged yet another site. His passion was the topic of erosion control for 1,000 years.

With a group of extraordinarily talented fellow engineers on the 14th floor of an old building in Albuquerque, we put together the equations and calculations to prove to Ted Johnson that what was proposed would control erosion on the remediated uranium mill tailings piles for 1,000 years at least.

He never let us off the hook regarding the tiniest detail. But he was intellectually penetrating and inquisitive. And we owed many of the advances we made to his persistence to delve to the depth of the issue.

I had one major disagreement with him. Somehow his colleagues in the NRC in Denver were, in my opinion, letting the private sector get away with lesser measures to control erosion than Ted was demanding of us. I manage to publish a paper that lost me a friend—my co-author accused me of betrayal and has not spoken to me since publication of the paper. Sometime after publication of this paper, responsibility for review of erosion control works was transferred from Denver to Washington. Ted won that battle.

Ted collated all the work we did regarding erosion on the UMTRA Project and all the work that was done by the consultants to the Title II (private sector) uranium mill tailings remediation site, into one major report: Design of Erosion Protection of Long-Term Stabilization (2002).

The full pdf of the report is available free for download at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission ADAMS web search by using the following Accession Number: ML022530043 at this URL: http://adamswebsearch.nrc.gov/dologin.htm. Simply follow the link I give, and in the box that pops up type ML022530043, and then download the pdf of the report.

In my opinion, this report should be on the desk of and should be used by every engineer involved in closing any mine waste disposal facility. This is a magnificent report. Not necessary well written; not necessarily well formatted; in fact it is pretty ugly. But it contains and distils an enormous amount of work, discussion, dispute, and trial & error. It encapsulates an enormous amount of wisdom. It stands as a monument to conservative practices that work.

That is the criticism that will be thrown at the report: the technical procedures that Ted mandates be applied to the closure and remediation of uranium mill tailings facilities are too conservative to be applied at ordinary mines that worked gold or copper or those less scary minerals and metals and commodities. Justifiably you may ask why set a design life of 1,000years for a gold mine tailings impoundment. What is wrong with 100 years?

In fact why not go for 30 years? All net present value calculation tells you it is better to postpone the expenditure to 31 years hence.

The criteria set for mine closure works are specific to each mine, to its jurisdiction, to its risks and rewards. At least take a look at what Ted Johnson has written to establish the baseline of excellence before you adopt lesser criteria and accept higher risks of failure.