Environmental groups protest uranium mine

By Sarah Pridgeon sarah@sundancetimes.com

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), along with the Powder River Basin Resource Council (PRBRC), has been granted permission to challenge Strata Energy’s proposed license for in-situ leach uranium mining in Crook County. The decision from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was unanimous, based on votes from five commissioners.

The two councils have been campaigning against Strata Energy’s plans to drill uranium at the proposed Ross project, less than 20 miles from the Devils Tower. “This is an important step in our fight to protect groundwater, land and other resources near Devils Tower,” says Geoff Fettus, senior project attorney for the NRDC nuclear program.

In-situ leach mining (ISR) extracts uranium by injecting a solution into a uranium-bearing rock formation in an underground aquifer. This dissolves the uranium and other heavy metals from the host rock.

Production wells, located between the injection wells, then intercept the solution and pump it to the surface, where it is piped to a centralized facility to extract the uranium.

“These mining sites have a long history of leaks and spills of the leaching solutions, and without fail cause lasting damage to the groundwater,” says Fettus. “Strata’s proposed license application does not address this problematic history. Despite a clear legal obligation under the law to analyze the long-term cumulative effects of sacrificing aquifers to uranium mining and other forms of resource extraction, the NRC and its applicants have failed to study these cumulative impacts.”

The NRDC, according to Fettus, are challenging the license for four reasons: firstly, because of potential damage to water and land; secondly, because it believes the regulatory system governing the mining to be inadequate, failing to offer meaningful mitigation strategies; thirdly, because it claims the permit application for the mine suffers from deficiencies; and fourthly, because uranium mining has a “dreadful history” of environmental and social harms.

“There are some 4000 abandoned uranium mines scattered across the landscape of the West,” says Fettus. “Decades after the closure of operations, a significant number remain to be cleaned up.”

“For the first time in years,” comments Shannon Anderson, staff attorney at PRBRC, “The environmental community will have the chance to make sure the NRC…is holding Strata Energy and by extension other uranium mining companies accountable to protect irreplaceable resources.”

Strata Energy, meanwhile, has announced that its response to the NRC’s request for additional information has been deemed acceptable to complete the license application review. Based on this, the NRC progresses unabated, and ahead of schedule, towards issuance of the license.

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