Environment | National

Native Sun News: Uranium mine in Black Hills draws attention





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


Fall River County Commissioners and others weigh uranium proposal at Nov. 26 meeting in Hot Springs.

Black Hills uranium mining project discussed at Hot Springs meeting
Story and photo by Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

HOT SPRINGS — In anticipation of a public information meeting here on Jan. 10 about Powertech (USA) Inc.’s proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium mining and milling venture in the southern Black Hills, Fall River County Commission President Mike Ortner told the Native Sun News that elected officials maintain a guarded position on the project.

The five-member commission voted on Nov. 26 to intervene in the South Dakota state Water Management Board permit process in order to stop the project unless the company can provide guarantees about water consumption and quality.

“We’re still on record at this point as not being in favor of it unless or until they can provide assurances,” Ortner said. A future agenda will be released to allow for public participation in a meeting to determine the conditions commissioners want met if the uranium mining and milling of yellow cake is to proceed, he added.

Meanwhile, uranium mining company experts and tribal representatives were expected to attend the public information forum scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the American Legion Hall in Hot Springs. Citizens concerned about project impacts on water in Fall River County, adjacent to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, sponsored the meeting, promoting it with an offer of homemade fruit pies.

The Rapid City-based Clean Water Alliance offered to help pay gas money to people traveling from a distance to the meeting. The grassroots organization, as well as others, including the Pine Ridge-based Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way), the statewide Dakota Rural Action and non-profit South Dakota Peace and Justice, have approved resolutions calling for a moratorium on uranium mining.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe has ratified a similar resolution and is intervening in federal hearings to protect treaty lands and cultural resources. The Hot Springs City Council has voted to intervene at the state level to prevent the project.

Powertech (USA) Inc. is seeking state and federal permits for what would be the first ever in-situ leach (ISL) mining and refining in South Dakota. Proposed for the Dewey-Burdock location 13 miles northwest of Edgemont, the project area would encompass about 10,580 acres. Production would be expected to reach 1 million pounds of uranium oxide per year for 20 years.

In-situ leach mining entails pumping brine into an ore body to dissolve solids and bring them to the surface for processing, then disposing the waste solution underground or on the land. The mining technique already is employed in other states, including adjacent Nebraska and Wyoming.

To do this, the company has applied for one permit for water rights of 551 gallons per minute to be taken from the Madison Aquifer and another to allow removal of 8,500 gallons per minute from the Inyan Kara formation.

Over a 10-year period, the water permits requested for the project would allow up to 47 billion gallons of extraction. The company estimates the mining process would consume about 2.76 billion gallons. The rest of the water could be re-injected into the aquifer, sprayed out on the surface, used or sold as the company sees fit. Powertech has offered in writing to supply water to local residents should the mining damage their sources.

The uranium recovered at Dewey-Burdock would be shipped by ground transportation from there to Tennessee for later distribution and use in atomic power plants.

The byproducts of precipitated radium and associated heavy metals, such as selenium, would be concentrated to reduce volume in settling ponds. The precipitate would be packaged and transported by truck or train to a federally approved disposal site.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approved waste facilities are the Cañon City Mill in Colorado; the White Mesa Mill near Blanding, Utah; the Shootering Canyon Mill in east central Utah, the Sweetwater Uranium Mill in Wyoming, and a commercial disposal site in Clive, Utah.

The only condition Fall River County Commissioners have established to date is for monitoring, Ortner said. “We want the state to have an inspector on site full time, so there will be independent inspection on time,” he said.

Following their vote to seek conditions, Comissioner Joe Falkenburg confirmed he received a letter from Powertech addressed to all the commissioners and numerous other people, encouraging them to support the endeavor. However, Powertech’s Dewey-Burdock Project Manager Mark Hollenbeck told the Native Sun News that he is “not aware of” such a letter. Ortner said he had not received the letter in question.

(Contact Talli Nauman, Health and Environment Editor for NSN at talli.nauman@gmail.com)