Tribal members and allies, pictured in Rapid City, South Dakota, in 2015, continue to express opposition to licensing of proposed Dewey Burdock radioactive extraction project, which regulators say could have a large impact on Lakota cultural resources. Photo by Native Sun News Today

Oglala Sioux Tribe battles uranium mining in sacred Black Hills

OST ‘fighting back’ to protect Black Hills from uranium mine

RAPID CITY – With the Oglala Sioux Tribe set to argue August 28-30 for its kind of protection of cultural resources from unprecedented uranium mining in the southern Black Hills, the tribal government and local groups urged members of the public to attend proceedings here and participate in a simultaneous outdoor cultural event to raise awareness about the issue.

A panel of administrative judges from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) is supposed to be in town on these dates to hear from the tribe, the commission staff and intervenors in the case, which is focusing on the “reasonableness” of their divergent approaches to surveying tribal cultural, religious, and historical properties at the proposed 10,000-acre Dewey-Burdock in situ leach mine and mill.

"NRC staff is attempting to escape its obligation to consider cultural resources at the site, saying it is so expensive and they shouldn’t have to do a cultural survey,” the tribe’s lawyer Jeffrey Parsons told the Native Sun News Today. “The tribe is fighting back.”

Opponents of Black Hills uranium mining and allies are pictured at a 2017 rally in Rapid City, South Dakota. Photo by Talli Nauman / Native Sun News Today

The judges ordered the hearing on the evidence this April 29, in response to an NRC staff request based on its conclusion that “further negotiation as to a methodology to resolve this contention is unlikely to be successful,” according to court records.

“The staff selected a reasonable approach for obtaining the information on cultural resources that the board found to be missing (and) was precluded from fully implementing it by the tribe’s constructive rejection of the approach. It is not feasible for the staff to obtain the information from the tribe, as the board contemplated,” staff filings say.

They note that the tribe balked on providing exclusive information under survey terms staff offered. Nonetheless, the staff holds, “The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and the adjudicatory record provides sufficient information to satisfy the requirements” of the National Environmental Protection Act in licensing the proposed radioactive materials and waste handling project.

The act requires tribal consultation in compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act before NRC staff approval of an environmental impact statement to license.

The tribe contends, not only in these administrative hearings, but also in court, that the federal government violated its own laws by inadequate consideration of tribal cultural resources and water concerns in issuing a license even before the environmental impact statement process was completed on the project in question.

The project is being promoted by license-holder Powertech USA Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Azarga Uranium Corp., which is carrying on a decade-long foreign crusade to clear all the U.S. regulatory hurdles that would allow the undertaking of South Dakota’s first-ever in situ mining and milling of uranium.

The activity would entail chemically leaching the radioactive toxic heavy metal from the rock in the underground water-table and processing it above-ground. The product would be trucked out of state to refinement facilities, making it available for use its ultimate destination, the production of nuclear power and weapons. The polluted water would be pumped back underground or sprayed on the surface.

The slated project site is located on 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty land in Custer and Fall River counties adjacent to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and upstream on Cheyenne River tributaries, a factor that motivates appellants who have joined together as the Consolidated Intervenors.

Their numbers include members of the American Horse, White Plume, Afraid of Bear, and Red Cloud tiospayes, or extended Lakota families, who “possess important oral histories that pertain to the discussion of cultural resources going on between the tribe and the NRC staff,” according to their filings. “None of these families was consulted in connection with the NRC staff’s efforts,” they note.


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