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Uranium Company Spars With Opponents About Proposed State Hearings

Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The Dewey-Burdock project area.


The company behind a long-lingering uranium mine proposal wants to start the state permitting process, but opponents say state hearings are premature until legal fights over federal approval are complete.  

A Canadian company, Azarga Uranium, and its South Dakota subsidiary, Powertech, want to mine in the remote Dewey-Burdock area of the southwestern Black Hills near Edgemont. The uranium would go to nuclear power plants. 

The proposal has been under review for more than a decade by various federal agencies. Powertech has permits from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and EPA and is seeking a permit from the Bureau of Land Management. 

Powertech attorney Matt Naasz said the company has earned enough federal permits to start the state permitting process. He addressed the state Water Management Board on Wednesday. 

“We’re here this morning to formally make the board aware that we intend to proceed with the water permit applications and the approval of the groundwater discharge plan for Powertech USA,” Naasz said. 

Seven years ago, the board postponed consideration of the state permits, because board members decided to wait for the outcome of the federal process. 

Opponents concerned about environmental damage are challenging the federal permits in court. Bruce Ellison is an attorney for opponents of the mine. He said appeals of the federal permits are years from a ruling.   

“How can we even be talking about getting back in front of the state board?” Ellison asked the board Wednesday. 

Powertech said it will file a motion to restart the state permit proceedings. The Board of Water Management will decide whether to grant that motion. 

Decades ago, uranium mining in the Edgemont area involved open pits and tunnels. Powertech is proposing “in situ” mining, in which wells are drilled to inject water underground, dissolve uranium, and pump it to the surface. The water would be pulled from local aquifers and then treated and pumped back underground after being used for mining, causing opponents to fear pollution of local water sources. 

-Contact reporter Seth Tupper by email.

Seth supervises SDPB's beat reporters and newscast team. He works at SDPB's Black Hills Studio in Rapid City.