Native Sun News: Chemical spill at uranium mine by Pine Ridge

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

The Crow Butte Resources Inc. uranium mine in Nebraska, about 40 miles south of the border of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Photo from Nuclear Street

Hazardous chemical spill sparks evacuation at uranium mine and mill Oglala Sioux Tribe opposes
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

CRAWFORD, Neb. –– On a cold northwestern Nebraska morning, hazmat teams responded to a call for cleanup of a hydrochloric acid spill from a truck making a delivery to a uranium mine contested by the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

“Don’t worry. All has been cleaned up,” the Nebraska Hazardous Materials Association proclaimed on Feb. 5, four days after the incident occurred near Crow Butte Resources Inc. uranium mine and mill.

The Associated Press reported that the truck was making the delivery to the contested uranium mine when it overturned and caused a “minor” hazardous chemical spill just south of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Dawes County Deputy Sheriff Scott Swickward said a tanker hauling a trailer slipped down a ridge early Wednesday morning while delivering the chemical to Crow Butte Resources, Inc. near Crawford.

He said the leak resulting from the accident was not a public threat; nearby residents were evacuated as a precautionary measure.

Hydrochloric acid forms a mist that can have an erosive effect on human skin, eyes and other organs, according to the Nebraska Hazardous Materials Association.

Swickward said a valve broke on the truck, allowing the acid to drizzle out.

As part of the process to make nuclear fuel, hydrochloric acid is mixed with ammonia at in-situ leach uranium mining and processing plants, such as Crow Butte.

The uranium is dissolved underground and pumped in solution to the surface. The acid and ammonia are used to precipitate the uranium from solution.

The resulting uranium-bearing slurry is washed, dewatered and dried to create a concentrated radioactive powder known as yellow cake, which is then shipped to converters, for further processing.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe is arguing at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that the final environmental assessment for Crow Butte Resources’ license renewal application “fails to discuss, let alone demonstrate, lawful federal jurisdiction and NRC authority over the territory and lands upon which Crow Butte seeks the renewal of its license.”

Instead, the tribal government states: “The Crow Butte commercial uranium milling facility is located on lands belonging to the sovereign Oglala Sioux Tribe and its people as part of its unceded territory secured by treaty, and not within the territory or on lands of the United States or any of its subdivisions by which the NRC may exercise any lawful jurisdiction.

“The natural resources that Crow Butte seeks a license from the NRC to continue to exploit, degrade, and destroy for private profit also belongs to the Oglala Sioux Tribe and its people," the tribe said. “The Tribe is the lawful possessor of sovereign jurisdiction, to the exclusion of the United States, over the territory upon which both the land and its natural resources lie and is the rightful caretaker of that land and its natural resources, including its minerals and its surface and ground water and air.

“The United States is the de facto wrongful occupier of that tribal territory and lacks lawful, de jure, jurisdiction over the activities that occur within that territory or over the land and its natural resources," the tribe concluded.

The tribe cites Article V of the 1851 Ft. Laramie Treaty with the Sioux Nation as the basis for the argument.

Owned by the Canadian Cameco Corp., Crow Butte Resources has been mining and milling uranium for nuclear power at its site four miles east of Crawford since 1991.

Cameco Resources is the largest uranium producer in the United States. Its mines in Nebraska and Wyoming provide more than half of domestically produced uranium used to generate electricity at nuclear power plants.

Crow Butte Resources notes that the culture of safety that exists at its Nebraska site is one reason the subsidiary was a recent recipient of Cameco’s highest safety honor: the annual Mary-Jean Mitchell Green Award.

(Contact Talli Nauman at

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