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EPA Grants Permits To Uranium Project in South Dakota

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Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The site of a proposed uranium mine in South Dakota.

The Environmental Protection Agency is awarding permits for a proposed uranium mine in South Dakota.

But the mine, already about 15 years in the making, still faces more hurdles.

The proposed location is 13 miles northwest of Edgemont. That’s on the remote plains at the southwestern edge of the Black Hills, near the map dots of Dewey and Burdock.

Powertech, the company proposing the mine, is part of a Canadian company called Azarga Uranium.

Mark Hollenbeck ranches in the Edgemont area and serves as the local project manager for Powertech. He said the EPA permits will allow the company to pump water from an aquifer, use the water to dissolve uranium underground, and then dispose of the briny wastewater by injecting it back into an aquifer.

That’s a process called “in situ” mining. The process would not involve the open pits and tunnels that characterized past uranium mining in the Edgemont area.

“It’s a very safe process,” Hollenbeck said.

Opponents of the project disagree with that statement. They say the injected wastewater could pollute important water sources in the semi-arid region.

Lilias Jarding, of the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance, spoke during a virtual press conference Wednesday.

“In some places, underground water moves very quickly, increasing the likelihood that the contaminated mining water will flow into water that had been clean,” Jarding said.

Opponents also say the EPA’s consultation with affected Native American tribes was inadequate. The Black Hills region was promised to Sioux tribes in the broken Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, and multiple tribes still maintain connections to spiritual sites in the area.

Jarding said opponents are considering appealing the permits within the 30-day window allowed by the EPA. Opponents are also considering a court appeal of Powertech’s previously issued license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And Powertech still needs the Bureau of Land Management to approve a plan of operations.

After the federal permits, Powertech needs more permits from South Dakota.

If the mine ever obtains all the necessary regulatory approvals, Powertech plans to pump dissolved uranium to the surface using hundreds of wells across a vast area. There could be a plant on-site to process uranium into yellowcake. The yellowcake would then go elsewhere for more processing, for eventual use in nuclear power plants.

– Contact SDPB reporter Seth Tupper by email.