URANIUM: Know the History

Mining has an ugly past

Several executives of Powertech previously worked with other uranium companies that were cited for mining violations. One company went bankrupt and left tons of radioactive mill tailings along the Colorado River in Moab, Utah. That mill is now a superfund site whose cleanup is funded by your tax dollars.

Thousands of old uranium operations have been left unreclaimed in the upper Missouri River basin, including about a hundred in the Black Hills. Modern uranium companies employ people who were involved in past uranium operations. Why should we trust them to clean up future operations?

Mining is, by nature, a boom-and-bust economic activity. Short-term profits for companies are followed by long-term pollution and unemployment in mining areas.

Current, modern, operating in situ leach mines have spilled and leaked hundreds of thousands of gallons of contaminated water, both above ground and underground. These leaks have entered both above-ground and underground water bodies.

In Wyoming, state regulators didn’t issue a Notice of Violation to Power Resources, Inc. (now Cameco Resources), until they had two three-ring binders full of spill reports.

South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources has conducted completeness reviews for two versions of Powertech’s state application for an Underground Injection Control Permit. The state has twice found Powertech’s application incomplete. Its second review comments dated April 19, 2010 includes 107 general comments and violations of South Dakota Administrative Rules, in addition to the August 6, 2009 completeness review comments left unaddressed by Powertech.

What is uranium?

Uranium is a naturally-occurring element. It generally poses no danger when it is left in the ground. However, when it is brought to the surface and concentrated, it emits dangerous levels of radiation. Once uranium begins to emit radiation, it breaks down into other heavy metals in a process that cannot be stopped and lasts millions of years.

Why the rush to mine Uranium?

There is a lot of money to be made.

The price of uranium went from $20/lb to $135/lb in 2007. It was the “new gold rush”. Companies plan a number of projects in the Black Hills in hopes of a “nuclear renaissance” that would bring their companies billions of dollars and leave us with the mess. Are their profits worth your health? Our water?


In South Dakota in 2008, changes were made to Water Management Board Regulations to remove the requirement that that before an in-situ uranium mining company could get a mining permit from the State, it had to prove by demonstration that it could restore the aquifer it wants to mine to its baseline (pre-mining) levels of radioactive heavy metals, arsenic, dissolving agents, etc. If it could not, and technology still can’t make it so, then a mining permit application would have to be denied by our State DENR.

Following are detailed reviews of South Dakota regulations and discussion on this issue:

In 2011, a South Dakota Senate Bill eliminated the DENR’s ability to regulate in-situ leach mining in South Dakota. Read more here.

There were three bills in the 2013 South Dakota Legislature that would have reversed these changes, but unfortunately were not passed.

Senate Bill 148 would have returned state regulatory authority over in situ leach uranium mining. This is the authority that was taken away in 2011.

Senate Bill 149 would have changed the current law that gives companies 30 days to report environmental violations without any penalty. Instead, under this bill, the companies would have to report environmental violations within 24 hours.

Senate Bill 150 Would have provided additional protections that: (1) require uranium companies return water to baseline conditions after they mine, (2) let the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources determine if it is feasible to mine safely in a particular place, (3) allow a mining permit to be denied if the company cannot demonstrate that restoration of water will work, and (4) require full restoration of water quality after mining.

Changes made in 2008 by the Water Management Board, at the encouragement of the DENR, the Governor’s office, and foreign mining interests, removed our State’s regulatory protection of our water resources from a form of mining which will raise the levels of radioactive heavy metals like the uranium (being mined) and vanadium (not being), as well as arsenic as it has everywhere. For example at a “restored” part of the Cameco aquifer-mine outside Crawford, Nebraska, 20 miles south of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and SD border, a US Geological Study found the State and Federal oversight agencies approved the Canadian company leaving water levels of uranium some 10 times baseline ( 092 mg/L -> .963 mg/L), vanadium some four fold times baseline (066 mg/L-> .26 mg/L), and a 10 fold increase in arsenic (.002. Mg/L. ->.024 mg/L). See, “Consideration of Geochemical Issues in Groundwater Restoration at Uranium In-Situ Leach Mining Facilities, NUREG/CR-6870 (USGS), Table 5, p. 21. And this was the best results of the “reclaimed” in-situ mines USGS studied.

Please note. Attempts at “cleaning” the water from the contamination caused by in-situ ming is the most expensive part of in-situ mining. That, along with company-friendly agencies are why we have hundreds of un-reclaimed uranium mines in the Black Hills from operations in past decades, when companies took their profits and left us with their mess. It’s why there are thousands of exploration drilling holes from the 1970s in the area and aquifers Powertech wants to mine, many of which are improperly plugged (reclaimed) and thereby contributing to the intermixing of the Fall River and Lakota aquifers. It’s why we need to change regulations back to those which protect our water resources rather than rely on the agencies to enforce regulations which do not.

The 2008 changes not only eliminated the requirement of proof by these foreign (Canadian) mining companies that they had the technological ability to actually restore our water to pre-mining baseline levels, but also no longer required that companies even do so. They only have to try as much as they want. If they can’t restore the aquifer to the levels they claim in their permit application they can reach, then the new Regulations allow even a greater amount of contamination to be considered OK by the agencies, who are merely enforcing watered-down regulations..

Particularly, former Water Management Board Regulation 74:55:01:45 required that the DENR would make a preliminary assessment of the company’s application and technical report to determine “if mining appears feasible or infeasible.”

“- Mining is infeasible:

– “if the proposed area lacks confining zones or contains geologic faults which would act as conduits for groundwater movements” like most of the Black Hills where uranium deposits surrounding the Hills are located;”

– “if the information is lacking on the permit application or technical report, or for other reasons determined by the secretary;”

– “If mining appears feasible, the applicant shall conduct a restoration demonstration on an area authorized by the secretary which includes a small part of the production zone.”

– “The restoration demonstration shall simulate actual production and restoration conditions for the purpose of making a restoration schedule which shall be included in the final permit. If the secretary determines that restoration is not feasible, the secretary shall recommend that the permit not be issued.”

The in-situ mining companies wanted this regulation changed because of the fractured nature of the Black Hills and that it cannot technologically demonstrate its ability to restore our water supplies they want to mine – to baseline level.


– In further regard, the foreign companies had the Water Management Board enact 74:55:01:45.01 which still required that the mining company initially determine “restoration values” upon baseline water quality levels, but then to feel free to disregard them since only the “best practicable technology” is now required. New 74:55:01:45.01 states:

“If the groundwater restoration demonstration…indicates that the operation will be unable to achieve the standard of returning affected ground water to baseline conditions with the application of best practicable technology, the secretary may set the restoration values as follows:

(1) To not exceed the applicable maximum allowable concentrations in South Dakota ground water quality standards listed in §74:54:01:04;

(2) To not exceed the health advisory levels or secondary drinking water regulations set up by the US Environmental Protection Agency for other parameters not listed in table 1 and Table 2 of §74:54:01:04; and

(3) To not exceed values based on an appropriate statistical method for any parameters not listed in South Dakota ground water standards or in US EPA health advisory lists or secondary drinking water regulations.

While 74:55:01:45.01 would arguably set some contamination limits, the in-situ mining companies are no longer required to meet even these limits as long as they tried to clean up radioactive and carcinogenic contaminants using the “best practical technology.” Specifically, in 2008, the Water Management Board approved 74:55:01:58:01, entitled: “Restoration values not achieved.” The new regulation states:

If the restoration values established by the restoration table of the permit are not met after application of best practical technology, the operator may submit an amendment to the permit to establish alternative restoration values.