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Oglala Sioux Tribe Appeal Seeks Survey Of Uranium Mine Site

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

A Native American tribe in South Dakota has filed an appeal that it hopes will force a scientific survey of artifacts, burials and other cultural resources that could be disturbed by a uranium mine. 

The Oglala Sioux Tribe, which is headquartered on the Pine Ridge Reservation, filed a petition for review Wednesday with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

The tribe wants the commission to review a December ruling by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. The December ruling said the NRC staff tried hard enough to conduct a scientific survey of the proposed mine area near Edgemont, even though the survey was never conducted. 

Jeff Parsons, of the Western Mining Action Project in Colorado, blamed the NRC for the failure. 

“The tribe was working with NRC to try to make that happen, but unfortunately the agency refused to provide the necessary resources for the tribe to conduct the work, and failed to hire anyone else to conduct the work,” Parsons said. 

Powertech, a subsidiary of Canada-based Azarga Uranium, is the company proposing the mine. Mark Hollenbeck, Powertech’s project manager, said the Oglala Sioux have been stalling by refusing to participate in site surveys that other tribes took part in. 

“They were invited time and time and time and time again, when the other tribes were out there, after the other tribes left,” Hollenbeck said. “They have been invited numerous times. I’ve had the van rented, I’ve had it full of water and ready to go to the site, and they’ve canceled.” 

Parsons said there was a problem with those other surveys. 

“Essentially the company and the agency said, ‘We will open up the land. You come and do whatever you want and tell us what you find, and we’ll go from there,’” Parsons said. “And frankly, that’s junk science.” 

The tribe has also clashed with Powertech and the NRC about the cost and appropriate contractor for the survey. The cost would be billed back to Powertech. 

The dispute about the survey dates to 2009, when Powertech applied to the NRC for a license. The NRC granted the license in 2014, even though there were unresolved contentions, including the contention about the survey. 

The tribe is appealing to the NRC, seeking to force a scientific survey of the proposed mine area. Parsons said there are 25 days for response filings and 120 days for the NRC to rule.  

The proposed mine is called the Dewey-Burdock project, for two map-dots near the site. The area is 13 miles northwest of Edgemont, on the southwest edge of the Black Hills. 

Uranium was mined in open pits and tunnels in the Edgemont area from the 1950s to the 1970s. Powertech plans to use the “in situ” method, which involves drilling wells to inject a water-based solution underground, dissolve the uranium and draw it to the surface for processing.