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Native Sun News: NRC weighing uranium mine near Pine Ridge

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

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.


Public given chance to stall proposed mine expansion near Pine Ridge
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

WASHINGTON — The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Nov. 30 announced the opportunity for anyone interested to intervene in Crow Butte Resources Inc.’s application to expand its uranium mining operation to the Marsland site, located between the Pine Ridge Reservation and Crawford, Neb.

In 2008, the Oglala Sioux Tribe intervened to demand hearings on a previous proposal for expansion of the company’s mining, at the nearby North Trend site. The NRC also granted participation in those proceedings to the nonprofit Western Nebraska Resources Council, the nonprofit Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way) and its founder, Debra White Plume, who is Oglala Lakota.

The new opportunity for requesting a hearing or otherwise seeking approval to intervene in the application for the additional expansion was posted in the Federal Register. It gives interested parties until Jan. 29 to request a hearing, petition for leave to intervene or move for permission to file contentions. Instructions for doing so are included in the Federal Register notice. The NRC will determine eligibility.

Crow Butte Resources Inc., a subsidiary of Canadian mining giant Cameco, wants to increase in-situ recovery (ISR) mining, which involves injecting a leach solution into wells drilled into an ore body, allowing the solution to flow through the ore body and extract uranium, then removing the uranium from the solution by ion exchange. Precipitation, drying and packaging into solid yellowcake uranium also takes place on site for shipping to nuclear power plants.

Interveners in the previous application argued, among other things, that “the current mine sites are within the treaty boundaries; that they possess water and mineral rights under the treaties, that infringement of the treaties would constitute injury.”

The NRC replied, “We do note certain treaty-related matters in passing, but these are not determinative on any of these issues.”

The NRC did allow petitioners to argue their allegations about contamination of water resources and potential resulting environmental and health issues, as well as concerns over adequate consultation with tribal leaders regarding a prehistoric Indian camp located in the region of the then-proposed expansion site.

A permit for expansion was granted on Aug. 15, 2011, for operations at the 1,165-acre North Trend site. The permit included the government’s declaration removing the groundwater in the injection area from eligibility for human consumption.

Then, in a February 2012 letter, Cameco asked the NRC to exempt it from a requirement to complete groundwater restoration within two years. “The imposition of such precise, prescriptive timeframes to groundwater restoration in aquifers that are part of natural systems is not practicable,” Cameco Director of Radiation Safety & Licensing Josh Leftwich said in the letter.

The NRC refused to review the exemption request, saying it was incomplete. The agency noted the request lacked a description of how the exemption would not endanger life, property, or common defense and security and how it would be in the public interest.

“Staff notes that despite several years of effort to restore groundwater at the Crow Butte facility, only one well field restoration has been approved by the NRC,” the agency told Cameco in a June 22 letter.

On Aug. 31 and Sep. 1, the Crow Butte site was evacuated due to threatening wildfire east of the mine. During the evacuation, a crew of five employees remained on site for security purposes. Source material on the site was kept under 24-hour surveillance. The wildfires did not enter the licensed area and as a result no releases of radioactive material were detected, Cameco reported to the NRC in September.

Crow Butte Resources Inc. has been mining uranium for Cameco on the southern side of the Pine Ridge Reservation in Nebraska for 29 years.

Cameco is one of the world’s largest uranium producers, accounting for about 16 percent of international production. Its uranium operations span the globe with mining, milling and development assets in Canada, Australia and Central Asia as well as the United States, where the Smith Ranch-Highland operation in Wyoming is another of its assets.

Located between the Crow Butte mine field and the Smith Ranch-Highland field is the proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium mine site, a project of the Canadian holding company Powertech Uranium Resources Corp.

(Contact Talli Nauman at talli.nauman@gmail.com)


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