Crow Butte Mining drills for uranium at the Wohlers Ranch on the Niobrara River near Marsland, Nebraska. The area is about 50 miles from the southern border of the Pine Ridge Reservation in neighboring South Dakota. Photo courtesy Wohlers Ranch

Native Sun News Today: Uranium mining near Pine Ridge Reservation halted

Canadian uranium giant halts production near Pine Ridge

By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Today
Health & Environment Editor

CRAWFORD, NE – Ensnared in legal action with the Oglala Sioux Tribe and its allies over uranium mining and milling on sacred unceded treaty land near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Crow Butte Resources, Inc., will halt production here this year, according to official filings.

Crow Butte Resources’ owner, the Canadian Cameco Corp., also is mothballing its uranium mine and mill at the Smith Ranch Highland site in Wyoming, the company declared in its most recent quarterly report to the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.

A Native Sun News Today investigation revealed that the shutdowns constitute suspension of all Cameco Corp. uranium mining and yellow cake production in the United States, and the work stoppage is the outcome of a 2016 directive to put off infrastructure development.

“As a result of our decision to defer all wellfield development at the U.S. operations, production will cease in 2018,” the report states. It blames weak demand in the nuclear power industry.

Cameco Corp.’s operations in Nebraska and Wyoming use the in-situ mining and milling process, which means they force groundwater and a leaching solution through boreholes drilled into the aquifers to dissolve and pump the uranium to surface facilities where it is processed into yellow cake.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe, members and allies have delayed permit renewal and expansion repeatedly at the 27-year- old Crow Butte Mine operation through administrative appeals to the Atomic Safety and Labor Board.

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: Oglala Sioux Tribe v. NRC - D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals - March 20, 2018

Plaintiffs claim that Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff has not consulted adequately with tribal representatives on cultural resources and that the mining company lacks sufficient facilities for waste water handling.

April 30 is the NRC’s next deadline for Cameco Corp.’s U.S. operations. On that date, the agency has announced, it will be releasing a final Environmental Assessment on the company’s permit application for a 4,000-acre Marsland Expansion Area of the Crow Butte site. The commission’s target date for licensing of that satellite facility is May 25.

The company report does not address the expansion application or another Crow Butte satellite permit application for the North Trend site. However, it states, “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission license renewal for Smith Ranch Highland continues.”

Smith Highland and its satellite North Butte mine form the largest uranium production facility in the United States, but they are already idled, according to the report.

In the Draft Environmental Assessment for the Marsland Expansion Area, the NRC staff concludes that potential impacts to surface water quality would be small, and “the potential long-term impacts on groundwater quality from excursions, leaks, spills, and disposal into the Deep Disposal Wells during operations would be small.”


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Meanwhile expert testimony that opponents offered in appealing permit renewal voices concern that the operations could make a wasteland out of the Nebraska Panhandle and part of South Dakota.

“My goal in offering this expert opinion is not to protest uranium mining, but rather to express my concerns regarding threats to the region’s diminishing water supplies and the future inhabitability of northwestern Nebraska and adjacent southwestern South Dakota,” said Hannan LaGarry, a geology PhD, in a written submission.

“It is my expert opinion that in situ leach mining in the area surrounding Crawford, Nebraska cannot be adequately contained,” he wrote. “Reports of artesian flow, the acknowledged and prevalent jointing and faulting leading to widespread secondary porosity, along with potentially high horizontal flow through regional faults indicate that during the course of its operation the Crow Butte Resources ISL uranium mine will most likely contaminate the region with unconfined lixiviant.

“This contamination will pollute and render unusable ground and surface water southwards into Nebraska and surface waters within the White River drainage northeastwards into greater South Dakota,” he concluded.

The grassroots Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way) and Western Nebraska Resources Council convinced the Atomic Safety and Labor Board to grant them a hearing on the North Trend Expansion Project permit application, based on three counts.

The organizations charged that the application “did not accurately describe the environment affected by its proposed mining operations or the extent of its impact on the environment as a result of its use and potential contamination of water resources, through mixing of contaminated groundwater in the mined aquifer with water in surrounding aquifers and drainage of contaminated water into the White River.”

The plaintiffs claimed that “proposed expansion of mining operations will use and contaminate water resources, resulting in harm to public health and safety, through mixing of contaminated groundwater in the mined aquifer with water in surrounding aquifers and drainage of contaminated water into the White River.”

They also sustained that “reasonable consultation with tribal leaders regarding the prehistoric Indian camp located in the area surrounding Crow Butte Resources’ proposed North Trend Expansion Project has not occurred as required under the National Environmental Protection Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.”

That expansion proposal is not as advanced on the NRC agenda as the Marsland.

Tribal opponents of Black Hills uranium mining and allies prepare to address EPA about water permits at 2017 hearing in Rapid City, South Dakota. Photo by Talli Nauman

The Draft Environmental Assessment for the Marsland Expansion Area notes that it is a part of the Nebraska Panhandle that “was traditionally occupied and used by the ancestors of the modern-day tribes of the Rosebud, Standing Rock, Pine Ridge (Oglala), Crow Creek, Lower Brule, and Cheyenne,” as the U.S. Indian Claims Commission confirmed on February 15, 1974.

However, it states “None of the recorded resources is currently considered to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places,” and, it concludes, “Potential impacts to known and recorded historic and archaeological resources … would be small.”

Cameco Corp. is one of the world's largest uranium producers, accounting for about 16 percent of global production. It owns part of the largest uranium mine in the world, located in Kazakhstan, and 100 percent of the second-largest uranium mill, which is its Rabbit Lake operation.

Located in Saskatchewan, Canada, the Rabbit Lake operation, which opened in 1975, was the longest operating uranium production facility in North America, and the second largest uranium mill in the world.

However, citing “market conditions,” Cameco Corp. suspended production there during the second quarter of 2016.

Yellow cake and processed uranium is for shipment to nuclear fuel makers and eventually weapons manufacture. The radioactive waste from production is trucked to disposal facilities, and the used mine water, which is unacceptable for consumption, is sprayed on the land or injected into deep aquifers.

Crow Butte production takes place on Lakota Territory, land and water guaranteed to the Great Sioux Nation by the 1851 Ft. Laramie Treaty.

Contact Talli Nauman at

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