ROCKVILLE, Md. — Judges on a federal nuclear regulatory board lifted a temporary stay of Powertech Uranium Corp.’s operating license for their proposed Dewey-Burdock in situ recovery uranium mine in the southern Black Hills Tuesday and denied requests by project interveners to formally stay the license.
Judges on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) removed the temporary stay after Powertech officials revealed that the work they intend to undertake at the Dewey-Burdock site in the next several months—the drilling of an unspecified number of sampling wells for data collection purposes—is legal to perform without an NRC license. Powertech’s disclosure of this information in a May 13 teleconference between the ASLB, NRC Staff, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and a consolidated group of project interveners effectively rendered both the temporary stay and the formal stay requests legally pointless.
The ASLB initially issued the temporary stay on April 30 in response to requests filed by the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the consolidated interveners to formally stay Powertech’s NRC license until further notice in order to protect tribal cultural resources at the Dewey-Burdock site.
Jeffery Parsons, the attorney representing the Oglala Sioux Tribe said Wednesday that the project interveners might’ve forgone filing stay request motions altogether if Powertech had disclosed the scope of their intended activities at the site earlier.
Parsons added that Powertech cannot proceed with any construction work beyond drilling sample wells at Dewey-Burdock without running afoul of NRC regulations.
The Oglala Sioux and consolidated project interveners' stay request motions also included arguments against the merits of the NRC Staff’s April 8 licensing of the Dewey-Burdock project. They allege that Powertech and the NRC failed to ensure the protection of important groundwater resources and violated both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) by failing to complete a “competent cultural resources inventory or survey of the (Dewey-Burdock) site” and neglecting to produce a satisfactory Programmatic Agreement plan to mitigate potential damage to sites of cultural significance to the Oglala Sioux.
Powertech and NRC Staff filed response motions vigorously contesting these allegations.
The ASLB’s Tuesday order to lift the temporary stay of Powertech’s NRC license and reject motion requests for a formal stay was completely devoid of any assertions related to these arguments of merit.
“The Board (ASLB) expressly refused to make any determinations as to the strength of the Tribe’s arguments that the NRC Staff and Powertech have failed to conduct a proper study of the significant cultural resources at the site and failed to ensure protection of groundwater,” Parsons said.
The ASLB specifically noted in Tuesday's order that these issues of merit will be addressed at the NRC public evidentiary hearing on the NRC’s Dewey-Burdock project licensing process on August 19 in Rapid City.
Nevertheless, Powertech appears to believe Tuesday’s order was tantamount to the ASLB actually reviewing the merit arguments and ruling in Powertech’s favor:
“Despite efforts by the opposition to delay the licensing process, this is another confirmation that NRC completed its work properly in determining that the Dewey-Burdock project should be licensed and is adequately protective of environmental and historic and cultural resources.” Powertech President Richard Clement said of the ASLB’s order in a news release published Wednesday.
Furthermore, the company’s release alleges that the ASLB’s order to deny the intervener groups’ formal stay requests and lift the temporary stay “shows that NRC Staff followed the correct process in complying with the National Historic Preservation Act.”
Powertech’s release doesn’t mention anywhere that the ASLB chose not to review the merit arguments filed by the Oglala Sioux and consolidated interveners—including those alleging failure to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act—until the August 19 NRC public evidentiary hearing in Rapid City.
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