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Native Sun News: Hearing on uranium mine next to Pine Ridge

Filed Under: Environment | National
More on: native sun news, oglala sioux, south dakota, uranium

The following story was written and reported by Jesse Abernathy Native Sun News Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Feds, state seek input on proposed uranium mine near Pine Ridge
Dec. 5 public hearing may be delayed
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

WASHINGTON — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission called for public comment Nov. 16 on a draft supplemental environmental impact statement for what could be the first in-situ uranium mining ever in South Dakota, at the Dewey-Burdock project site in the southwestern counties of Custer and Fall River, adjacent to the Pine Ridge Reservation.

“Members of the public are encouraged to submit comments about the statement,” the NRC said in making the announcement.

South Dakota’s Department of Energy and Natural Resources also has scheduled a hearing for public input Dec. 5, on two water permits for the proposed mining and processing plant about 13 miles northwest of the town of Edgemont. However, the hearing is likely to be postponed.

“Given the time it will take to determine that the applications are complete, time to conduct technical reviews of the completed applications and the public comment periods, it will likely be sometime next spring before the Powertech applications are heard before the state boards,” said DENR Secretary Steve Pirner.

One permit would allow taking 551 gallons per minute from the Madison Aquifer, and the other would allow removing 8,500 gallons per minute from the Inyan Kara formation. Two wells would be drilled into the Madison, and 1,500 wells would be drilled into the Inyan Kara.

By comparison, Rapid City pumps 4,861 gallons per minute from the Madison for its residents’ use.

The project proponent, Albuquerque, N.M.-based Powertech (USA) Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Canadian Powertech Uranium Corp., says the project may last as long as 20 years.

About 240 Bureau of Land Management acres are included in the permit application boundary. The company estimates production would be 1 million pounds of uranium oxide per year.

Powertech (USA) Inc. submitted a federal license application for the facility on Aug. 10, 2009. The license would authorize the company to build, operate and decommission the facility, which would use the in-situ leach process to recover uranium from underground ore and convert the recovered uranium into yellowcake on site for shipping to nuclear power installations.

The NRC draft report analyzes environmental impacts specific to the Dewey-Burdock site and mitigation strategies to reduce or avoid adverse effects on the surrounding environment.

The draft supplemental statement includes the NRC staff’s preliminary recommendation to grant the license “unless safety issues mandate otherwise,” it says. The staff continues to analyze safety aspects of the application in a separate technical review.

Over a 10-year period, the water permits requested for the project would allow up to 47 billion gallons of extraction. The part from the Madison would be taken from the same source that supplies drinking water for the bulk of the western South Dakota population, whose municipal systems rely on it.

Most of the mine water would be recirculated during recovery. Then wastewater would be disposed via underground injection below potential drinking water sources or by spraying it on the ground.

According to company estimates, 2.76 billion gallons would be completely consumed by the mining process. The rest of the water used would be returned but would not need to be in its original condition to meet with regulations.

In-situ uranium mining has never been tried under South Dakota’s regulatory regime. But in other states, groundwater has never been returned to baseline conditions at any in-situ operation, according to the Rapid City-based Clean Water Alliance.

“Once a permit was issued, there would be no way to protect water supplies or our aquifer from these huge withdrawals,” warned alliance member Lilias Jarding. “We encourage everyone to call their state legislators and the governor and tell them that we don’t want our water given to a foreign corporation,” she said.

Powertech submitted the two applications for water rights permits in June. It would use the water from the Madison for aquifer restoration and for facility operations, as well as to supply domestic and livestock water to local ranchers. The company has submitted four applications to DENR altogether: The other two were for a large-scale mine permit and a groundwater discharge plan.

After the DENR denied the discharge plan twice, the 2011 South Dakota Legislature suspended the state agency’s oversight in the matter. Lawmakers responded to arguments that state supervision was a duplication of federal controls. An attempt to re-establish the state’s jurisdiction failed in the 2012 Legislature.

“This means DENR’s recommendation on the large scale mine permit will not address many of the technical issues related to in-situ operations and no Class III permit application is required at the state level,” the agency explained in an October statement.

“Therefore, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has jurisdiction over the operation under its source material licensing process, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency has jurisdiction over underground injection control Class III wells,” the DENR noted.

The EPA will accept comments on the draft supplemental environmental impact statement for 45 days following publication of a notice in the Federal Register, expected Nov. 23.

Comments may be submitted over the federal government’s rulemaking website after that date using Docket ID NRC-2012-0277. They may also be mailed to Cindy Bladey, Chief, Rules, Announcements and Directives Branch, Office of Administration, Mail Stop TWB-05-B01M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001.

The draft supplemental environmental impact statement for the proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium recovery project is available on the NRC website as Supplement 4 to NUREG-1910, Generic Environmental Impact Statement for In-Situ Leach Uranium Milling Facilities. More information on the application and the staff’s review is also available on the NRC website.

(Contact Talli Nauman at

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