Native Sun News: Foes of uranium mine make case at hearing

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

Marvin Kammerer spoke out against the uranium mine. Photo by Christiane Lee

Five against; two for, uranium mining at Mato Tipila
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

SUNDANCE, Wyo. – Five people testified against proposed northern Black Hills uranium mining in view of sacred Mato Tipila (aka Bear’s Lodge or Devils Tower) at a public hearing on Sept. 28, before a panel of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. Two spoke in favor.

The Australian corporation Strata Energy Inc. received a permit from the staff of the NRC earlier this year to undertake the Ross Project, an in-situ leach operation on a site with thousands of abandoned drill holes in the vicinity of Oshoto Reservoir on the Belle Fourche River.

The national non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council and the Wyoming statewide grassroots Powder River Basin Resource Council (PRBRC) contested the permit, detonating the administrative hearing process in which the public comments were accepted and evidence was submitted later in the week by the parties.

Carla Rae Marshall also spoke out against the mine. Photo by Christiane Lee

While most of the arguments were about water depletion and contamination from the aquifer mining, Carla Rae Marshall, also testified regarding the tower’s traditional role in cultural activities, prayers, and other religious and spiritual purposes among various tribes.

The Cheyenne River Sioux tribal member who lives in Rapid City said she has been “involved with protecting our water for a number of years. Water is life,” she said. “If we don’t have clean water for livestock and to grow our food, what is there?” she asked. “Life will end.”

Then she stressed: “Where you’re trying to mine at is only 13 miles from Mato Tipila, a sacred site for Northern Cheyenne, Arapaho, Sioux and other tribes.” The Ross Project would employ approximately 200 people in the construction of 15 to 25 well fields and a total of 1,400 to 2,200 injection wells on a 1,721-acre site adjoining additional uranium properties that provide potential for expansion of operations.

The proposal includes a yellow-cake processing plant that would employ up to 100 people during construction. It would have the capacity to mill uranium and byproducts from Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Sundance resident Rodney Knudson, a teacher with a master’s degree in physics and chemistry, testified that “it is highly likely that the more than 5,000 bore holes that are anywhere from 300 feet deep to 1,000 feet deep, previously drilled while prospecting for uranium, have only been capped and not plugged” at the proposed site.

“Therefore,” he said, “Abundant opportunities for vertical excursions from the mining operation exist because of these unplugged bore holes from previous explorations and peculiar geologic conditions.

“The excursions would be both vertical and horizontal over time and would jeopardize drinking water aquifers people use on a daily basis, the water they feed their stock and that which they use for irrigation.”

The term “excursion” is industry jargon for unplanned pollution, spills, and contamination.

The hazardous materials released by dissolving ore to release uranium into the aquifers for surface recovery during the in-situ leaching process “include radioactive elements uranium, thorium and all their daughter nuclides in the decay series, as well as arsenic, selenium, vanadium, molybdenum and many others that, if imbibed in the water supplies, will cause significant biological damage,” Knudson warned.

“Given the reluctance of people potentially affected to spend the money required to perform the periodic water tests detailing the elements in question, the results may only be known years later in the form of cancer clusters and birth abnormalities,” he added.

“Without potable water, land values would plummet and thus much of true costs of this mining technique would be externalized by the mining company,” he noted.

“Most bonds cover little more than land disturbances and not threats to public health,” he observed. “Often times the public is left with the tab for cleaning up an impossible situation or the area is simply left as a sacrifice zone,” he added.

He charged project promoters with looking only at the “oppressive quarterly bottom line” and not considering “the seven generations to come,” as advocated in indigenous teachings.

Spearfish resident John Dale, a member of PRBRC’s sister organization Dakota Rural Action, said the mining industry has “accumulated a large environmental debt over the years” that’s unfair to the people who live near the mines. “We need to properly assess this debt and set up a payment plan,” he said.

“Clean up the messes we’ve made before we make another one,” he advocated. Dakota Rural Action has a resolution to oppose all uranium mining in the Black Hills until it can be proven safe.

South Dakota rancher Marvin Kammerer from Meade County also cited a need to consider seven generations yet unborn. “The Native Americans mention that quite a bit. We ought to pay more attention,” he said.

Kammerer noted that similar mining proposed by foreign companies at the Dewey-Burdock Project in the southern Black Hills would affect the aquifer his family ranch uses. “That’s my water and I’m simply a caretaker for those not yet born,” he said in beseeching the panel to revoke the staff permit at the Ross Project.

Arizona resident Barbara Crowell, who said she grew up five miles from the Ross Project site on lands her grandparents homesteaded that will be passed down to their descendants, differed. She said her family members “are in agreement and we trust the project proponents,” adding, “Everything they have said, they have followed up on.”

“I think that Crook County would be remiss in not allowing this to go forward,” she said. “We need the tax base, to have a varied scope of job availability. It would be a welcome site for this part of the world,” she added.

Oshoto resident Florence Reynalds agreed. “Every time I go into Strata’s office they answer what it is they are doing. Plus in this county, we really need better paying jobs. Extra money from Strata will help with roads without raising taxes,” she added.

(Contact Talli Nauman at

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