By Debra White Plume
Powertech USA Inc. is embarking on a path of destruction from which there is no return. The company plans to start in situ leach mining in South Dakota’s Custer and Fall River counties that will puncture through four aquifers on the Great Plains and endanger a fragile geologic system.
As a result of ISL mining planned at the Dewey-Burdock site – 12 miles northwest of Edgemont – we on the Plains must face the threat of groundwater contamination for generations, while the corporate leaders reside far away in their homelands of Canada and France.
This new corporation has no history of accountability in adhering to environmental laws or in the clean-up of a mined-out area. There are thousands of reports by mining corporations that document problems trying to contain uranium-laden water at mine sites, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Web site.
Will this new corporation – which will be mining uranium in an area with thousands of improperly abandoned boreholes and fractured aquifers – have the capacity to contain the radioactive water it plans to pump to the surface through miles and miles of pipe? Pipe which leaks, according to the NRC.
Powertech knows about the thousands of uncapped boreholes in their mine permit area, and about the horizontal and vertical faults and fractures between aquifers through which groundwater can spread thorium, radium, arsenic and other contaminants disturbed with ISL mining.
These metals can travel to contaminate clean drinking water which may eventually end up in the pipe that brings drinking water into our homes, or the garden hose that waters our family gardens. Arsenic and alpha emitters make people sick.
The history of earthquakes in the Black Hills makes ISL uranium mining even more dangerous.
Does Powertech have the finances to pay fines for leaks and spills that other corporations have had to pay or to cleanup? It is not clear if the company has the resources to pay for cleaning up its mess, or if water can ever be safely restored.
Powertech’s uranium mining applications to the NRC and the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources were deemed inadequate. But rather than denying the applications, both entities helped revise Powertech’s applications.
The fact that the corporation failed to complete a satisfactory application does not create confidence and makes one wonder about these governmental entities: Are they here to look out for the well-being of people and the environment, or for the mining corporations?
The opportunity to view the public records of Powertech’s 6,000 page application as limited to Internet availability is prejudicial. It assumes that everyone has a computer and Internet access and eliminates untold members of the general public.
Let me be clear, this practice impacts the most vulnerable: The poor and the isolated.
The Dewey-Burdock area is in 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty Territory and in a place sacred to the Lakota People: The Black Hills, the heart of everything that is. The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty was ratified by Congress and was never amended. Under international law it is our land.
Our ancestors fought the United States, and many people died, to protect the Black Hills and our homelands. There are hundreds of places in the proposed mining area that have been identified as archeological, historical and cultural sites.
Will this new corporation have the capacity to contain the radioactive water it plans to pump to the surface through miles and miles of pipe?
There are tipi rings, stone cairns, graves; there are eagle nests there which need protection. For a corporation to have more rights than human beings is a violation of our basic human rights.
To keep us away from a sacred place is to kill our people and way of life. What kind of government makes such laws that allow a corporation to turn this into a “National Sacrifice Area?”
The laws of the United States, the NRC regulations, and the individuals who sit behind those desks can honor treaty law, the life way of the Lakota, environmental laws, and demonstrate respect for Mother Earth by denying Powertech USA Inc.’s application to mine uranium.
After Powertech has mined for 20 years, used billions of gallons of water, fouled our aquifers and land, and completed processing its yellow cake imported from Wyoming, Powertech’s board of directors and shareholders will remove the pumps that keep radioactive water “contained,” cap the deep disposal wells storing billions of gallons of radioactive waste, dismantle its buildings for shipment to a nuclear waste dump, lay off the handful of local employees, close its Hot Springs Office, and enjoy their profits back in their home offices in Canada and France.
The NRC staff will file away the paperwork of the Dewey-Burdock Uranium Mine – our homelands. Will the file tab read “Radioactive, Keep Out?”
Debra White Plume is an Oglala Lakota author, artist, and activist from the beautiful Pine Ridge homelands.
The preceding story first appeared on Indian Country Today
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)
For the past two years we have been asking that letters be sent to South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds requesting a moratorium on further uranium development until the old mines are cleaned up. He has always replied in the negative. Therefore we are now approaching the South Dakota legislature who is starting their sessions in Pierre, SD.
Enclosed are two form letters addressed to Representatives Hunhoff and Lange. The facts in the form letters are based on studies and research. It would greatly help these two representatives if they could approach their colleagues with hundreds of letters asking for a moratorium on further uranium development. Please make copies of the enclosed letters and have your friends and relatives sign them, then send them immediately to Bernie Hunhoff and Gerry Lange. Let’s get as many letters to them as possible. Anyone living anywhere can send a letter because the uranium is used all over the world in power plants or weapons.
If you live in South Dakota, it would also help if you would send a similar letter, or group of letters, to your own state Senator or Representative as well as these letter to Hunhoff and Lange. Letters to the Editor of South Dakota newspapers are also needed. Please also consider sending a letter to the editor encouraging a moratorium on further nuclear development in SD.
Together, we can all make our environment safe from nuclear radiation by starting at where the nuclear cycle starts with the exploration and mining.