Uranium Mining In The Black Hills – Debra White Plume’s Response to ‘Clean Nuclear’
by Debra White Plume, Feb 2010
The planned uranium mine site in the southern Black Hills can impact four aquifers. Powertech, Inc. USA plans to begin uranium extraction in 2011 and operate for 15 years in the permit area of 10,580 acres located in Dewey and Burdock Counties, north of Edgemont, SD. PT plans to drill 4000-8000 wells to a depth of 400-800 feet underground to extract 1 million pounds uranium per year, initially using 4000 gallons of water per minute. As well as the four aquifers in this area, the site includes the surface water of Beaver Creek and Pass Creek, which empty into the Cheyenne River downstream from the mine site. To permanently store the mining waste of radioactive water and sludge, PT plans to use several evaporation ponds and deep disposal wells. Thirty-eight people currently live within a 6 mile radius of the proposed mine, with a cattle ranch nearby that raises beef for sale as food. PT plans to locate its’ processing plant in the Burdock area. Once this area is mined out sometime around the year 2026, PT plans to continue to use the area as a yellow cake processing site for uranium extracted from its mines in Wyoming and Colorado, according to PT’s Environmental Protection Agency Aquifer Exemption Application.
Who Is Powertech, Inc. USA?
Powertech, Inc. (PT) is a recently formed, foreign-owned uranium exploration corporation from Vancouver, BC, Canada with an office in Denver, CO and Hot Springs, SD. (PT’s parent company is Suez, the giant French-owned
multinational corporation.) PT also has ISL mining plans for Wyoming and currently is in the permitting process for ISL uranium mines in both South Dakota and Colorado. PT has completed exploratory drilling in the Dewey-Burdock uranium mine permit areas, which straddles Fall River and Custer counties 12 miles northwest of Edgemont. PT utilized several thousand drill holes made by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) 20-30 years ago when TVA explored and mined the area. From 1951 to 1964, TVA produced 1,500,025 pounds of yellow cake from this uranium deposit. TVA left many uranium drill holes uncapped and abandoned when they left the Black Hills. TVA sold their claims when the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant approached a melt-down, and the horror of Chernobyl happened. PT acquired the property in the Edgemont area in 2005. PT is also preparing to mine uranium southeast of Edgemont in the Plum Creek area.
How Will the Miners Get the Uranium Out of the Ground?
ISL Mining is a method used to extract uranium ore from underground, using water to inject solutions deep into the uranium ore body through injection wells, then the ‘production well’ pulls up the injected solution with the uranium ore attached. The piping is placed in drill holes which puncture the aquifers. From these pipes, the uranium ore enters the production plant, the solution and dirt debris is shaken off, and the remaining uranium ore is dried to turn the it into a fine powder called “yellow cake”. It is necessary to drill thousands of holes deep in the ground to conduct ISL mining. Arsenic, Radium 226 & 228, Thorium 230 and other contaminants are stirred up during the extraction process and can enter groundwater through leaks in the thousands of pipes used to ISL mine. Such leaks can allow the radioactive water to seep out of the pipe and back into the groundwater, which has happened at ISL mines all over the world. (for info see www.wise-uranium.com ). Water that is used to extract the uranium ore out of the ground is re-used to repeat the extraction process, some of this water is then stored in evaporation ponds, along with the sludge of the contaminants, some is stored permanently underground in disposal wells. The sludge is shipped out as radioactive waste. No corporation has ever been able to clean up the aquifers of an ISL uranium mine site, rather, the state or EPA will relax its water standards.
Water Pollution A Major Concern In SD
Environmental and conservation groups, including the Sierra Club of SD, warn that water pollution will be a major concern if the mining company Powertech is given a permit to mine for uranium. Shirley Frederick, with the Sierra Club’s Black Hills Group, says there’s a high likelihood that aquifers will become polluted if an injection-well recovery system is used to mine the ore. “It’s a huge potential for contamination of groundwater.”
Powertech Inc USA has submitted its uranium mining application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and it can be viewed at the NRC website. The NRC has announced a time period for interested individuals to voice their concerns regarding the uranium mine’s impacts to the environment. This proposed uranium mine will be the first time folks can be heard under the new GEIS.
Photo of Cameco’s Crow Butte ISL Uranium Mine near Chadron, Neb. by Owe Aku, Lakota Media Project
Powertech’s ISL Uranium Mine Plans for the Great Plains (image taken from their website)