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Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux Tribe battles uranium mine

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.

To protect water from proposed in-situ mining, supporters of Black Hills Clean Water Alliance, formed a symbolic human shield of Rapid Creek in Founders Park on April 12. Photo courtesy/Carla Rae Marshall

Oglala Sioux Tribe attempts to block Powertech’s proposal
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

RAPID CITY – As street demonstrations broke out over federal licensing of the first proposed in-situ uranium mining and milling in South Dakota, the Oglala Sioux Tribe faced an April 14 deadline to request a stay postponing the effective date of the permit.

Issued to Powertech (USA) Inc., the permit is a federal radioactive materials license -- good for 10 years of proposed operations at the Dewey-Burdock site in Black Hills treaty territory 50 miles west of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

A panel of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) “will hold a hearing to examine environmental and safety contentions related to the project later this year,” the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff said on April 2, in announcing Materials License No. SUA 1600. The Oglala Sioux Tribe has the ASLB’s ear in a federal administrative appeal process to block the Powertech proposal on more than 10,000 acres in Custer and Fall River counties in extreme southwestern South Dakota.

The Rapid City-based Clean Water Alliance and the Consolidated Interveners (Wild Horse Sanctuary owner Dayton Hyde and neighboring rancher Susan Henderson) also have federal standing to intervene at the ASLB level against the proposal.

The board can rule on the stay motion at any time. “The ASLB does not have a required timetable to resolve a stay motion,” said Jeffrey C. Parsons, the tribe’s attorney in the matter.

The tribe is continuing to file motions in the contested case hearing to defeat the uranium mining proposal, he told the Native Sun News on April 10.

Also contacted by Native Sun News, the lawyers David Frankel for the Consolidated Interveners and Bruce Ellison for Clean Water Alliance said they would file for a stay to postpone the license’s effective date. Meanwhile, Powertech (USA) Inc. said in a news release from its Greenwood Village, Colorado office, its officers are “pleased” to receive the license.

Powertech President and CEO Richard Clement called the license “the culmination of eight years of planning and evaluation.” He said the “robust nature of NRC's licensing process also greatly facilitates finalization of Powertech's other Dewey-Burdock permits.”

This is the first permit the company has obtained since it began seeking approvals in 2009. South Dakota’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources twice denied the company permits for underground injection of mine wastewater.

Company employees subsequently lobbied successfully for the state Legislature to relieve the department of its supervision of underground water in the mining process, leaving the task in the hands of the EPA.

The federal agency will issue a public notice before the end of April, soliciting comments and announcing open hearings on the company’s applications for Class 3 and 5 underground injection control (UIC) water permits, according to a Feb. 19 letter from EPA Region 8 Water Program Director Sadie Hoskie.

The materials license in question allows Powertech (USA) Inc. “to receive, acquire, possess, and transfer byproduct, source, and special nuclear material.” It applies to an “unlimited maximum amount” of uranium and byproduct, such as vanadium, that the company “may possess at any one time”.

Powertech Chief Operating Officer John Mays congratulated corporate staff for obtaining the license, calling it a “success in achieving the company's foremost permitting objective.”

The license would require the company to administer a cultural resource inventory “before engaging in any developmental activity not previously assessed by the NRC. In order to ensure that no unapproved disturbance of cultural resources occurs, any work resulting in the discovery of previously unknown cultural artifacts shall cease ... until the licensee has received authorization from the NRC, the South Dakota State Historic Preservation Officer, and the Bureau of Land Management,” it states.

All entrances to the mining and milling facility are to be “conspicuously posted” with the words: "CAUTION: ANY AREA WITHIN THIS FACILITY MAY CONTAIN RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL," the license stipulates.

If the permit takes effect, it also will require the company provide the NRC with financial assurance “to adequately cover the estimated costs of decommissioning and decontamination, if accomplished by a third party,” according to the fine print in the license.

The assurance would have to be sufficient to “cover offsite disposal of radioactive solid process or evaporation pond residues and groundwater restoration,” as well as “costs associated with all soil and water sampling analyses necessary to confirm the accomplishment of decontamination.”

Powertech Dewey-Burdock Project Manager Mark Hollenbeck characterized the permit as a “significant milestone,” adding, “The community anxiously awaits the employment opportunities the project will bring.”

About 80 to 90 construction jobs could become available on a short-term basis, if the project goes forward.

Employment would taper off as the project matured over an expected 20-year span.

“We thank everyone for their contributions and look forward to completing the remaining permits so construction can begin," Hollenbeck said.

In Fall River County, Concerned Citizens of Hot Springs sponsored a protest demonstration against the uranium mining proposal at the American Legion Hall on April 11 during a visit scheduled by Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

“We think that it is of great importance to show the people inside, and the community outside, that we do not want to risk our water in this venture,” the group announced.

For the in-situ -- or solution -- mining, Powertech is requesting South Dakota water rights indefinitely for 8,500 gallons per minute of water from the Inyan Kara Aquifer and another 500 gallons per minute from the Madison Aquifer, the drinking water source for Hot Springs and Rapid City.

Clean Water Alliance organized a “Stand for the Water” along the bike path by Rapid Creek at Founders Park in Rapid City on April 12 to respond to the NRC staff licensing decision. “We oppose uranium mining in the Black Hills and understand that our lives, our economy, and our future depend on clean water,” the group said in announcing the demonstration.

(Contact Talli Nauman at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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