Posted 11 months ago
By John Axtell
South Dakota environmental officials are asking the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission for more authority in regulating the proposed Powertech USA uranium mine near Edgemont, while mine opponents have submitted proposed legislation to restore portions of state permitting authority over the project.
South Dakota lawmakers in 2011 suspended the state’s power to issue permits for and directly regulate in-situ injection-extraction mining…the system Powertech plans to use for its Dewey-Burdock project, which would mine about 200 of the 11,000-acres the company has under mineral lease.
Lawmakers agreed with Powertech that direct state in-situ-mining permits are an unneeded duplication of federal permits and regulation. The state did retain authority on other permits needed for Powertech and similar projects.
South Dakota Department of Energy and Natural Resources spokesman Eric Holm said the agency is working with the NRC on a memorandum of understanding that would give the state a bigger role in setting reclamation bonds and inspecting Powertech’s mining operation, but legislation would be needed to reinstate permit authority.
Holm says public interest in and requests for having state inspectors on such projects led to the talks with the NRC, explaining that responding to such citizens contacts is “customer service.”
Powertech critics aren’t satisfied with that and want the limits passed by the legislature repealed. Lilias Jarding, an organizer for the Clean Water Alliance of Rapid City, says South Dakotans “value keeping government close to the people,” so “it makes sense” for the state rather than “some distant federal official” to regulate uranium mining.
Democratic State Senator Jim Bradford of Pine Ridge filed 3 bills Friday that had been developed by the Clean Water Alliance and Dakota Rural Action. The bills strengthen state regulations on uranium mining and restore the state permitting authority over in-situ uranium mining.
Bradford says residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation are worried about the mining operation depleting and contaminating water supplies that reach to the reservation…with Edgemont area residents also expressing such fears to him and promising to go to Pierre to testify in favor of his bills.
Powertech project manager and Edgemont rancher Mark Hollenbeck says the company opposes simply reinstating the state in-situ permit process, but would support the state reaching an agreement with the NRC to have the state be the lead regulator for all the mine permits…including the one for the in-situ operation.
Hollenbeck says opponents who claim the state doesn’t regulate Powertech are just trying to create another hurdle for the company to jump, pointing out that he has 4 different state permits to show how extensive state regulation is.
In-situ mining…the processed used at the Crow Butte uranium mine near Crawford…pumps a solution of water chemicals similar to bi-carbonate of soda into the aquifer to dissolve and capture uranium. The water is then pumped to the surface and processed to remove the uranium.
Hollenbeck says the process is designed to reuse most of the water…which is not of drinking standard to begin with…and to restore it to its original quality when mining ends. Opponents says the chemical solution has escaped in other mines and is certain to do the same at the Edgemont project.