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This page was last updated on February 13, 2021.
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The Vitro mill was located on 128 acres on 3300 South at 600 West, immediately west of the south end of D&RGW's Roper yard in Salt Lake City. The entire property including the large amount of tailings was bounded on the south by 3300 South Street, on the west by 900 West Street, on th east by the D&RGW railroad, and on the north by Mill Creek as it flowed westward into the Jordan River. Part of the bounded area is taken up by the Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility, with portions of the Vitro tailings surrounding the water treatment plant on three sides. The water treatment plant had first been located on the site following the closure of the Kalunite alunite reduction mill in early 1946.
The Vitro mill was originally built by the U.S. Defense Plant Corporation in 1943 as a war asset designed to refine alunite into metallurgical-grade alumina, the raw material of aluminum metal. Alunite is an aluminum-potassium-sulfate mineral found extensively in the U.S., including in the Marysvale, Utah, area. Alumina, the common name for aluminum oxide is electrolytically smelted to produce elemental aluminum. Kalunite, Inc., was selected to operate the plant, much like U. S. Steel was the operator of the Geneva steel plant during the war.
The goals of the Kalunite mill were to enable increased U.S. production of aluminum, a metal in extremely high demand for aircraft and other war material, and to reduce reliance on bauxite, the principal raw ore of alumina, as bauxite is not found in significant quantities in the U.S. Bauxite's principal sources are West Africa, South America and the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia, all of which during World War II required either scarce and easily interdicted ocean shipping to transport the bauxite to the U.S., or were under Axis control.
The alunite refining process is complex and costly. The DPC built the Kalunite plant in Salt Lake City to test the patented "Kalunite" process of refining alumina, and funded a second plant at Marysvale, Utah, to test the patented and competing "Moffat" process. The Marysvale plant was never completed, and the Salt Lake City mill failed to cost-effectively produce significant quantities of alumina. The DPC closed the experimental Kalunite plant as a failure in late 1945, and it was sold as a surplus war asset in 1947 to J. R. Simplot Company as a proposed phosphate fertilizer plant. In early 1951 Simplot sold it to the Vitro Chemical company who proposed to use it as a uranium oxide refinery. J.R. Simplot was a vice president of Vitro Chemical, which was a joint project of Simplot and Vitro Manufacturing of Pittsburgh. Production of refined uranium oxide at Vitro began in April 1951, along with other rare minerals obtained from various uranium ores from the boom areas in southeast Utah and southwest Colorado. Production of refined uranium oxide ended in mid-1965 following U.S. government reducing its purchases, as it had built up a large inventory. The Vitro mill's production quotas were transferred to the Uranium Reduction, Inc., mill in Moab.
The Vitro mill was the converted to vanadium refining; vanadium is an alloying metal used to increase the strength and hardness of steel. The vanadium source material was obtained from Simplot's phosphate plant west of Pocatello, Idaho. The collapse of the vanadium market forced the closure of the plant in 1968, after which the site became an environmental nightmare for local residents and local government. Cleanup of 2.9 million tons of radioactive waste by the federal EPA began in 1984 and continued through 1988 as the waste was hauled by rail to the newly developed disposal site at Clive, in Utah's western desert.
The following was written by Robert Woody of the Salt Lake Tribune on August 12, 1971:
The plant was built in 1942 — "way away from everything" — by the Defense Plant Corp, to process low-grade clays from the Marysvale area into synthetic bauxite to produce much-needed aluminum for the war effort. DPC put the extra two feet on the 452-foot-high stack so that it would be among the 10 highest in the nation. With some stacks of 750-feet and 1,000 feet in height now, the Vitro stack has lost its standing, in addition to its use.
Vitro bought the plant in 1951 and converted it to a custom uranium mill to process uranium oxide from various mines in Utah. Twelve years later, Vitro converted into a vanadium pentoxide plant, processing slag from the elemental phosphate production at Pocatello, Idaho. The vanadium pentoxide was base for the production of ferro vanadium, which is added to steel for alloying.
In September, 1967, use of the stack plume was suspended abruptly with the installation of the precipitator. "We did it before anyone told us to." In July, 1968, economic conditions forced Vitro to shut down the 100-man plant.
Between 1933 and 1944, the Kalunite company, with offices in Alton, Illinois, near St. Louis, was granted several patents to extract aluminum-related products from alunite ore, using its autoclave process. The end products were reported to be alumina, potassium sulphate, and metallic aluminum. (Search for "Kalunite" at Google Patents)
By July 1936 the Kalunite company had built a pilot plant on Navajo Street in Salt Lake City. The pilot plant was to develop its "Kalunite" process to extract alumina (aluminum oxide) from alunite ore mined near Marysvale. (Salt Lake Tribune, July 14, 1936)
The Kalunite Company, of Delaware, was dissolved on December 23, 1936, by a vote of its stockholders at a special meeting held in Alton, Illinois. The assets of the Kalunite Company were sold at auction on January 4, 1941, after a receiver had been appointed on October 10, 1939. The assets had been valued at $1,900. The receivership was forced by Dr. Arthur Fleischer, a stockholder of the company and patent holder of the Kalunite process. By March 1939 the company had been reorganized as Kalunite, Incorporated, with its headquarters in Salt Lake City as a subsidiary of the Olin Corporation, and continued to operate its pilot plant on Navajo Street in Salt Lake City. (The News Journal [Wilmington, Delaware], December 9, 1936; notice of special meeting; Salt Lake Tribune, March 23, 1939; The Morning News [Wilmington, Delaware], November 30, 1940; St. Louis Post Dispatch, June 18, 1941)
In April 1941, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, in his testimony before Harry Truman's Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, showed that the alunite ore found near Marysvale, and other locations in the West, might be the source for metallic aluminum at about 12 cents per pound, compared to the current 17 cents per pound being charged to the government by other suppliers. In June 1941 Utah Senator Abe Murdock was able to obtain funding that would allow the U. S. Bureau of Mines to start a $16 million test program to investigate and compare the two existing processes developed to reduce alunite ore to become alumina, or aluminum oxide, which could then be refined as metallic aluminum. These two processes were the Moffat process, which used a dry roasting process, and the Kalunite process, which used an pressurized autoclave process. (Salt Lake Tribune, June 20, 1941)
There was an almost daily stream of news coverage in local newspapers in June, July and August 1941 about the efforts in Washington D. C. to obtain program funding to develop the Utah alunite deposits. Secretary of the Interior Ickes was in favor of a Utah source. But for unreported reasons, the Office of Production Management seemed to be strongly against any other source than two already well established suppliers of aluminum for the National Defense Program: Aluminum, Inc., with their South American source of bauxite, and Alcoa, with their source of bauxite from Arkansas. It was this duopoly that was part of the investigation of the defense contractors by Truman's special committee. Finally, in late August, the OPM agreed to a small test plant with a capacity to process 100 tons of Marysvale alunite ore per day. The Kalunite pilot plant in Salt Lake City had already made several successful daily runs using one ton of alunite ore. This agreement in late August was just prior to Truman convening hearings in Salt Lake City looking into the iron and steel situation, and the aluminum situation, and the role that Utah sources could play in support of the National Defense Program. (The Truman hearings in Salt Lake City were later canceled after another congressional committee had held similar hearings and heard testimony from the same persons and parties. The Truman committee continued to hold hearings in Washington about the production of aluminum, steel and magnesium.)
In early September the Kalunite company stated that a plant with a 100 tons per day alunite capacity would not be economically feasible, and the federal OPM asked for a study of the smallest-sized plant possible. The company stated that it would prefer a location in Tacoma, Washington. Refining aluminum metal from alumina concentrate needed large amounts of electric power, and a site in the Northwest would be close to the low-cost electric power of that region. A compromise was reached to locate a concentrating mill in Salt Lake City that would process 350 to 500 tons of Marysvale alunite per day, and produce 50 to 75 tons of alumina concentrate (about one or two carloads) that would be shipped to a new refining plant in Tacoma to be made into aluminum metal.
In late September the Kalunite company proposed to the federal OPM that the company build its Utah mill at Lehi, on the site of a sugar factory that had closed in 1939. This proposed "three-unit" plant would have the capacity to produce 100 tons of alumina concentrate per day for shipment to the similarly proposed aluminum refinery at Tacoma. Within days, the Defense Plant Corporation agreed to fund the Tacoma aluminum refinery and a one-unit alumina mill at Lehi at a reported $1.1 million, agreeing to fund a second and third unit when the alumina concentrating mill proved successful. The Lehi location was still undecided in mid October, after the DPC had announced the funding of the alunite concentrator in late September. The single-unit plant was to have the capacity of accepting 167 tons of Marysvale alunite per day, and DPC staff members would be working to identify an ideal location, specifically either Marysvale or Lehi, or another as yet unknown site.
On October 24, 1941, a contract was signed that put $2 million at the disposal of the Kalunite company; $1.5 million to build its alunite concentrator plant in Utah, and another $500,000 to begin mining operations of the Marysvale alunite deposits. At the same time, a contract was signed for the Olin Corporation, parent company of the Kalunite company, to begin construction of an aluminum refinery at Tacoma. The five-year contract provided that the DPC would build the plant, reimburse the Kalunite company for its operating expenses, and pay Kalunite 1/8 of a cent per pound to purchase the plant's alumina concentrate and potassium sulphate byproduct.
The experimental Kalunite plant was built for the recovery of alumina and potassium sulphate (also known as sulphate of potash, more commonly called potash). After considering Marysvale, then Lehi, then Provo as possible locations, in February 1942 plans were announced that the plant would be built by the Defense Plant Corporation in Salt Lake City, with the prime consideration being the availability of low-cost natural gas. Both Lehi and Provo had been suggested by the federal OPM due to the close proximity to the coke ovens of the Ironton iron mill and the coal gas which the ovens produce.
On February 2, 1942, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation announced the selection of a site in the center of the Salt Lake valley as the location of the new Kalunite alunite concentrator mill. The site was north of 33rd South, near the crossing of the D&RGW railroad at about 4th West. The selection was specifically to take advantage of low-cost natural gas. The projected cost of the plant was reported as being $3 million. The ready availability of utilities and a ready labor force, as well as transportation were also given for the selection. Construction was expected to start within two weeks, with the planned 11 buildings taking a small portion of the 72-acre site. Work on the pilings for foundations began in the last week of February and the first week of March, with production to begin in July, and full completion by October 1st. Production was to be 35 tons of alumina concentrate per day. A request by Kalunite company to triple the size of the plant was turned down in mid April, but later approved by the War Production Board, giving the plant a reported output of 100 tons of alumina per day, coming from 500 tons per day of Marysvale alunite. (Salt Lake Tribune, February 3, 1942; February 27, 1942; April 17, 1942, Spokane Spokesman Review, July 29, 1942)
The Kalunite plant in Salt Lake City was designated Plancor 291, under the DPC system for all 1400 DPC plants under construction at the time. As of late October 1943, the plant was very nearly complete, but there were difficulties in getting the Kalunite process to successfully produce usable quantities of alumina. Production started during the first week of November. (Salt Lake Tribune, October 27, 1943; Salt Lake Telegram, November 6, 1943)
After completion in November 1943, the plant was operated by Kalunite, Inc., as a subsidiary of the Olin Corporation, operator of the aluminum refinery at Tacoma, which was also built using government funds. From the time of its first operation in late 1943, through 1945, about 13,000 tons of ore was shipped from the mines near Marysvale to the Salt Lake City plant. During the same period, the associated aluminum refining plant of the Olin company at Tacoma, produced 1,200,000 pounds of aluminum from 2,500,000 pounds of "calunite alumina," partially from Marysvale by way of the Kalunite plant in Salt Lake City, but mostly from bauxite ore from Arkansas. By October 1944 the increased transportation cost for bauxite shipments from Arkansas and other sources in the Southeast meant that aluminum from the Olin company's Tacoma plant was too expensive based on DPC projections for future war needs of aluminum, and consideration was being given to closing the plant in favor of less expensive sources. Also in October 1944, the nation's aluminum production was reported as being about 100 million pounds, with only about half of the nations' aluminum capacity being used. The Kalunite plant in Salt Lake City was still not yet in full production due to technical difficulties, and together with the expensive aluminum from the parent company's Tacoma plant, the Salt Lake City plant's future was in question. By mid 1945, the failure of the plant and the "Kalunite" process being used, was compounded by the end of hostilities and the increased bauxite shipments from sites in the U.S. and imports from outside the U.S.
The Kalunite plant in Salt Lake City was closed in December 1945, and was declared surplus in August 1946. A closed bid sale was held in March 1947. The initial bids were considerably below what the War Assets Administration thought the property was worth, and the deadline was extended several times. A series of bids were received through November 1947, and various agencies and interested parties became involved, including the Department of Justice's Anti-Trust Division. Negotiations continued for weeks until on December 23, 1947 the former Kalunite plant was sold to J. R. Simplot of Idaho, with plans to convert it to phosphate fertilizer plant. The final sale and deed to the property was in limbo for 90 days while one of the unsuccessful bidders contested and appealed the sale through the Department of Justice. The controversy continued into mid 1949 with various elected officials becoming involved, including the Commerce Department blocking Simplot's obtaining and transporting scarce anhydrous ammonia needed to to produce fertilizer at the converted plant. Production of ammonium sulphate fertilizer finally began in June 1949 but only 1500 tons were produced until a stable source of ammonia could be found. Production was intermittent until the plant was sold to Vitro in January 1951.
(During this same time period of the 1940s there was a similarly named company that mined a different grade of alunite from deposits near Marysvale, Utah, that held greater percentages of potash. This was Calunite, Inc., a California corporation that sold a product it called "Calunite," as a fertilizer for home gardens. Calunite, Inc., also had a fertilizer plant in Pomona, California.)
Vitro Uranium Mill
A uranium mill of the Vitro Chemical company in Salt Lake valley was planned as early as February 1950, with the purpose of refining uranium oxide from ore mined in Utah and other western states. In 1951 the Vitro company bought the inactive former Kalunite plant at 600 West and 3300 South in Salt Lake County.
In early January 1951, the J. R. Simplot sold the former Kalunite plant to the Vitro Chemical company, a company incorporated for the purpose and of which Simplot was a vice president. The existing Kalunite plant at 600 West and 3300 South in the center of Salt Lake valley, was to be converted from processing alumina clays, to processing uranium ore. Uranium ore had been stockpiled at Marysvale pending the opening of a processing mill at either Marysvale or Salt Lake City. The movement of stockpiled ore from Marysvale to Salt Lake City started in April 1951, and processing of the ore began in early May 1951. (Salt Lake Tribune, January 9, 1951)
As the boom in uranium exploration began in the late 1940s, many locations for uranium mills, large and small, were proposed by companies, and by the federal Atomic Energy Commission. Larger mills were proposed for Grand Junction, Colorado, and at Marysvale, Utah, to be close to the likely mines and easy rail transportation. Other than the Vitro company, other companies included the Vanadium Corporation of America, and the Bullion Monarch Mining company. There were small and medium mills at Monticello and at Hite, as well as in Colorado at Uravan. The federal Atomic Energy Commission was in full control of the uranium market, and began focusing on the Vitro mill because of its low operational costs. This began changing with the opening of the Uranium Reduction (Ureco) company's mill at Moab in 1957.
According to a newspaper item in April 1951, showing a D&RGW GS gondola being unloaded at the Vitro plant, D&RGW had two spurs into the Vitro plant. The material shown in the photo was uranium ore, from a 1000-ton stockpile at Marysvale, with Marysvale as the focus of truck-to-rail transfers. A newspaper item from January 1951 reported that there were trucks hauling uranium ore in 15-ton lots from mines in southwestern Colorado that traveled to Marysvale by way of the Colorado River ferry crossing at Hite. That must have been quite a trip, considering the condition of the roads in the early 1950s. But it was likely considerably cheaper than shipping by rail from Durango. Before the Vitro mill, the ore was trucked to Durango, and moved by D&RGW to either Grand Junction (at a mill that was closed when Vitro opened), or to the Marysvale storage "depot," for later movement to Salt Lake City. Research suggests that uranium ore was moved by rail from Durango, Colorado, apparently via narrow gauge to Salida, then by standard gauge to either Grand Junction or Salt Lake City. The shipments were apparently in carload lots of about 50 tons each, with multiple cars per week.
A portion of the ore shipped to the Vitro mill came from Howard Balsley, a resident of Grand County and a uranium ore broker. Balsley entered into "a contract with the Vitro Manufacturing Company of Pittsburgh in which he agreed to supply their requirements for uranium ore. The contract specified that he deliver ore running a minimum of 1.5 percent uranium oxide and a minimum of 5 percent vanadium oxide. He then arranged for warehouses or other storage facilities in Blanding, Monticello, Moab, Cisco, Thompson, and Green River in Utah and in Grand Junction, Newcastle, Meeker, Montrose, Naturita, Dove Creek, and Egnar in Colorado. His contract called for shipment in fifty-ton carload lots, so he had to accumulate enough ore to make up that quantity. He bought ore from more than 300 small producers scattered across the Colorado Plateau. He bought ore in any size lots, from twenty-five pounds to a carload, and every lot had to be sacked in 100-pound bags. Then he had to blend the various lots going into a carload so that the required minimum grades could be maintained." (Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 59, Number 4, 1991, page 402)
Ore also came from uranium mines in Beaver County, and was shipped by Union Pacific rail car to the Vitro mill. (History of Beaver County, 1996, page 316)
Closure of the Vitro uranium mill came after the so-called stretch-out of AEC procurement from the original December 31, 1966 date to 1970 due to reduced demand. The stretch-out affected all uranium processing mills in the West, including the operations of the Vitro mill at Salt Lake City. The mill was closed in January 1965, and in July its production quotas and contracts through 1970 were transferred to the Atlas (former Ureco) mill at Moab. The change added the production of 12 mines served by the Vitro mill to the Atlas mill, bringing its total to 40 mines served by the Atlas mill. (Salt Lake Tribune, July 28, 1965)
Vitro Vanadium Mill
"Vanadium production in the United States comes principally from the same territory as uranium and as a co-product in the milling of certain of these ores. Production at regional mills was significant in 1940 from San Juan ores, and the co-products were vanadium and uranium popularly referred to as "red cake" and "yellow cake." From 1940 through 1953, production data on vanadium ores were not available for the simple reason that such data, with a little arithmetic, would have shown uranium production. Vanadium production was reported in Utah at approximately 1 million pounds per year in the middle 1950's and valued between $1 million and $1.7 million. Production decreased somewhat from the peak in 1955. The value has not been listed by the Bureau of Mines since that date. In 1963, new plant facilities at Vitro in Salt Lake City began processing slag from the elemental phosphate plant at Pocatello for recovery of vanadium." (Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 31, Number 3, 1963, page 188-189)
"Vitro marketed mineral pigments for the manufacture of ceramics, glass, and pottery. The company had a world-wide customer base and made twenty-six shades of red, greens, browns, and yellows from the uranium ore." (History of Grand County, 1996, page 290)
With the change in end product, Vitro Chemical Co. changed its name to Vitro Minerals Corporation.
The Vitro plant shut down on August 9, 1968, and laid off its 90 workers. The reason given was that the market for vanadium had collapsed due to stockpiling of steel supplies in anticipation of a strike by steel workers. But the steel workers and steel makers settled without a strike.
Within a year of the Vitro mill's closing in 1968, the adjacent Salt Lake City Suburban Sewer District began dumping sewer sludge at the Vitro site, and the dumping continued when the larger Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility was created in 1978, combining the water treatment facilities of seven districts across Salt Lake County. The same Central Valley facility later took full ownership of the entire Vitro mill and tailings site.
The former Vitro smokestack was demolished on Sunday December 21, 1980. By that time, the smokestack's original height of 452 feet had been extended to 560 feet.
The following comes from the final Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1984.
From 1951 to 1964 the Vitro Chemical Company of America processed uranium ore for sale to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission at a mill in the southeast corner of the site. When the plant was dismantled in 1970, the radioactively contaminated materials from the processing operations (approximately 1.9 million dry tons of uranium mill tailings and over 1 million dry tons of other contaminated material) remained on the site piled as high as 16 feet in some spots. Over the years some of the tailings were removed for use in construction projects elsewhere in the Salt Lake City area. It is estimated that about 100 off-site properties contain contaminated materials from these construction projects; the bulk of the tailings, however, remain at the Vitro site.
In 1978, Congress passed Public Law 95-604, the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978 (UMTRCA), having expressly found that uranium mill tailings may pose a potential health hazard to the public. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was charged with the responsibility for promulgating radiological and nonradiological standards for remedial action at inactive millsites.
On November 8, 1979, the DOE designated the Vitro site as eligible for remedial action under UMTRCA. The DOE and the State of Utah entered into an agreement effective January 30, 1981, to perform remedial action on this site.
In 1980, the State of Utah evaluated a number of potential off-site disposal areas that could be used if the Vitro site were to be cleaned up and contaminated materials moved elsewhere. Utah nominated three sites to the DOE, all of which are in Tooele County west of Salt Lake City. The DOE made an independent evaluation of these and picked a site hereinafter called the South Clive site as the best of the three because of its environmental and geotechnical superiority.
The site at Clive was also selected, at least partially, because it was reportedly the only potential site that was on school trust lands, as well as being situated next to a railroad line for ease of transportation. School trust lands are federal lands set aside as funding sources for public schools.
The following is compiled from selected parts of the U. S. Department of Energy's Completion Report for the Vitro mill site, dated March 8, 1995.
The Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility Board owns all the property, including the Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility and the Vitro mill site.
In 1941, a large smelter was completed on 3300 South and 500 West in Salt Lake City. For five years this smelter was known as the Kalunite Smelter, Inc. In 1946, the plant was known as the Vitro Chemical Company Kalunite Plant. From 1941 through 1951, this smelter processed aluminum from alunite. In May 1951, the Vitro plant began processing uranium ore under contract with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The residual tailings produced in the process were deposited west and north of the plant. In 1959, the AEC authorized sale of the tailings, and about 100 off-site properties around the area used some of the tailings in their construction projects. The bulk of the tailings, however, remained at the Vitro site. Uranium ore milling discontinued in February 1964, and the vanadium ore processing began the next year.
By the time the Vitro mill operations terminated in 1968, the plant had produced 4787 tons of concentrated yellow cake (U308) and more than 4 million tons of radioactive tailings. The mill facilities were dismantled in 1970 and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began its survey of mill tailings processing sites two years later.
In April 1974, the Salt Lake City and County Board of Health declared the Vitro site a "public
health hazard" because of the large concentrations of radioactive material. Beginning in May 1974 surveys and studies identified the health hazards of the mil and tailings site, as each local and federal agency made their reports. In November 1978, Congress passed the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act requiring remedial action of identified mill tailings
sites and off-site locations. In December 1979, the U.S. Department of Energy designated the Vitro site for
remedial action and the EPA began the process of drafting standards for that action the next month.
In January 1985, the contract was signed for the first contractor to begin remedial action at the Vitro site. Between April 1985 and July 1985, the site was controlled and fenced. Staging facilities and loading and unloading facilities were constructed and railroad spurs were installed. On July 2, 1985, the first load of tailings was hauled to Clive. During the next 18 months the contractor employed a systematic approach to excavate the tailings. The contractor began in the extreme northwest corner of the site and proceeded south and east toward the staging facility, which was in the extreme southeast corner of the site. The contractor subcontracted the work for the structural debris removal that was ongoing during the project. In November 1986, the contractor notified the state of Utah of completion of the quantities listed in the contract and the state of Utah released the contractor from any further obligation. During the spring of 1987, the state of Utah negotiated a contract with the second contractor who was to relocate the remaining 10 percent of the tailings to the Clive repository. This area was in and around the staging area. The second contractor hauled the tailings by truck to the Clive repository, which required an extensive wash rack. The trucks were tarped and inspected before every haul. On November 20, 1987, the last load of tailings was hauled to the Clive repository.
The contractor selected to move the Vitro mill tailings was ARGEE Corporation, with headquarters in Denver, Colorado (ARGEE = Another Ray Green Engineering Enterprise). ARGEE was selected because of their experience moving large amounts of dirt as part of their contracts building numerous sections of Interstate highways throughout the west.
UP received a contract to move 3 million tons of uranium mill tailings from the 128-acre Vitro site near D&RGW's Roper Yard to Clive, Utah, in approximately 37,000 carloads, beginning in June 1985. UP competed for the contract against trucks, and was able to get the contract due to two-man crew agreement and cabooseless operations. Another factor was that the trucking company wanted a shield from liability if an accident happened along the highway route, which passed through several communities in Salt Lake valley. The railroad route was deemed to be safer, and would not need a shield from liability.
The contract was signed on January 4, 1985. ARGEE would then begin to prepare the Vitro site for loading the tailings, and prepare the disposal site at Clive in Tooele County. The preparations at the Vitro site included a process to dry the tailings prior to them being loaded into the rail cars. (Salt Lake Tribune, January 4, 1985; January 5, 1985)
The large water tower at the Vitro site was demolished on March 1, 1985. ARGEE planned to begin hauling the tailings on July 1st. (Salt Lake Tribune, March 1, 1985, with photos)
The disposal site at Clive was barren desert at the time, except for an abandoned gravel pit nearby. Union Pacific was to construct a rail spur to the 60-acre site, which was being stripped of top soil and sage brush in preparation. The site was prepared and ready to accept the tailings starting on July 2nd. (Salt Lake Tribune, March 6, 1985; June 20, 1985)
ARGEE contracted with Union Pacific to move the tailings in rail cars from the Vitro site (adjacent to the former D&RGW Roper yard), to the disposal site at Clive, a siding on Union Pacific's former Western Pacific line in western Tooele County, about 76 rail miles from the Vitro site.
ARGEE contracted with local shortline Salt Lake Garfield & Western to provide railroad operational support at the Vitro site itself, including locomotives and crews, and on-site rail car maintenance. At the Vitro site, SLG&W initially used its small centercab GE 44-ton locomotive with two engines, numbered DS-2 to switch the rail cars. One of the two engines on DS-2 failed, and it was replaced by SLG&W DS-5, a centercab GE 65-ton locomotive also with two engines.
At Clive, SLG&W assigned its DS-6, a GE 80-ton centercab locomotive, which was moved to the disposal site at Clive on June 14, 1985, and used by ARGEE's subcontractor, Broken Arrow, Inc., to move the loaded rail cars to the rotary dumper. SLG&W DS-6 suffered a broken wheel and was scrapped at Clive. It was replaced by leased ex-KCT SW1200 74.
Trains began operating on June 1, 1985. The 6,000 ton, 50 car unit trains were operated as Union Pacific symbols VSCE and VSCW (Vitro-Salt Lake City-East/ West). Trains used two older UP SD40 locomotives and UP 100 ton "Coal-Liner" cars, equipped for rotary dumping. (CTC Board, August 1985, page 9)
ARGEE planned to work 20 hours per day, seven days per week to remove the remaining 2.5 million tons of tailings by the end of 1986.
Due to adverse weather conditions, and associated excess moisture in the tailings themselves, the clean up trains didn't run during most of the winter and spring of 1986. In 1986 the trains were increased to 76 cars and about 9,000 tons, using three Union Pacific road locomotives rather than the two that were used during 1985.
When the trains became longer and heavier (76 cars, increased from 50 cars), a more powerful locomotive was needed to switch the cars at the Vitro site. Former Kansas City Terminal SW1200 71 (EMD 29240, 7/64) and 74 (EMD 29243, 7/64) were leased to SLG&W in early 1986 as part of their contract with ARGEE Corporation for switching cars of hazardous waste being removed from Vitro tailings site in South Salt Lake City, and at the Clive disposal site, 76 miles west of the Vitro mill site. Both units arrived on SLG&W property in February 1986. Number 71 was used at the Vitro mill site, and number 74 was used at the Clive disposal site. The lease for the two SW1200s ended after the last rail car was loaded at the Vitro mill site in late November 1986.
Operation of Vitro tailings waste train from Salt Lake City to Clive, Utah ended on November 30, 1986. ARGEE Corporation moved 3.5 Million tons of tailings, finishing about a year early by working 20 hour days, seven days a week. (Pacific RailNews, May 1987, page 20)
After the last rail car was moved in November 1986, the two former KCT SW1200s sat unused until they were moved to VMV Enterprises, a locomotive dealer and rebuilder in Paducah, Kentucky. Both locomotives were seen at VMV Enterprises at Paducah, Kentucky, in April 1988, and as late as early October 1988. They were sold to Elgin Joliet & Eastern 322 and 323 in early 1989.
The former Vitro site today is owned by the county-wide water treatment district, with large parts used as a PGA nine-hole, Par 33 golf course and golf driving range.
Moab Uranium Mill -- Information about the construction and demolition of the uranium mill at Moab, Utah, including information about moving the tailings.
Marysvale Alunite Mills -- Information about the mining and milling of Alunite in the area around Marysvale, Utah.
Uraninite -- Read the Wikipedia article about Urannite, also known as Pitchblende, the major ore of uranium, mined throughout southeast Utah and southwest Colorado.
Vitro and Kalunite Newspapers -- Newspaper clippings covering the Kalunite plant, and the later Vitro plant.
Yellowcake -- Read the Wikipedia article about Yellowcake, the refined uranium product shipped by Vitro from its mill.
Thanks goes to Mark Hemphill for his help and mentoring on this project.