RAPID CITY — The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission made a controversial move Tuesday by granting Powertech Uranium Corp. a license for its proposed in situ recovery uranium mine in the Southern Black Hills four months in advance of a public hearing the regulatory group scheduled to hear arguments against the mine.
Powertech Uranium Corp. — soon to be Azarga Uranium Corp. if the Toronto Stock Exchange and Powertech stockholders approve Hong Kong-based Azarga Resources’ reverse takeover of the Canadian company — applied for an NRC license for its Dewey-Burdock in situ recovery (ISR) uranium mine just outside of Edgemont in 2010.
The uranium mining project still needs approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment, and the South Dakota Water Management Board before Powertech/Azarga can begin operation.
Powertech’s President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Clement was pleased with the NRC’s decision to license the Dewey-Burdock project.
“The issuance of the NRC’s final license is the culmination of eight years of planning and evaluation and confirms again that our plan for in situ recovery mining at Dewey-Burdock is safe and will have minimal environmental impact,” he said in a prepared statement on Tuesday.
Opponents of the project, however, maintain it has much more potential to contaminate groundwater, surface water, and soil than Powertech and the NRC allege. They’re also incensed that the NRC issued Powertech a license for the project well before the August public hearings the federal regulatory commission scheduled to hear public concerns on the project, effectively illustrating the NRC’s concerns with public opinion.
“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has put the cart before the horse by giving a company a license before it even holds the hearings on that license,” Clean Water Alliance representative Dr. Lilias Jarding said Tuesday in a prepared statement. “The hearings and permitting process must be honored.”
Representatives from the Clean Water Alliance said the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, the independent trial-level adjudicatory body of the NRC, accepted several contentions against the NRC’s handling of Powertech’s license application, including failure to adequately consult with interested American Indian tribes on cultural and historical heritage sites in the proposed mining area, failure to include adequate information on baseline water quality, and failure to adequately describe and analyze ground water quantity impacts. These concerns will be addressed at August’s public hearing.
The ISR process utilizes dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of small water pumps to inject oxygenated water into underground aquifers to leach uranium deposits out of the rock walls. The water is then pumped back to the surface, the uranium is extracted, processed into yellowcake format, and sold.
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