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SD Hearing Scheduled in Decade-Old Uranium Mine Dispute

A controversial uranium mine would be located 13 miles northwest of Edgemont and 50 miles from the Oglala Sioux Tribe's Pine Ridge Reservation. (dakotarural.org)
A controversial uranium mine would be located 13 miles northwest of Edgemont and 50 miles from the Oglala Sioux Tribe's Pine Ridge Reservation. (dakotarural.org)
August 28, 2019

RAPID CITY, S.D. - A case that began in 2010 is back in the news this week, as the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board hears arguments between a uranium mining company, government regulators and the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

The hearing will decide if the mining company, Powertech, is required to conduct a cultural study at its proposed mine site near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Western Mining Action Project senior attorney Jeff Parsons, who is representing the tribe, said a federal judge already ruled that the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission acted illegally when it issued the 2014 mining license because a cultural resource study was not conducted.

"It is not rocket science to conduct a cultural resources survey on a site like this," he said. "It's just that the company in this case refuses to spend the money, and the NRC staff refuses to hold the company's feet to the fire and make them comply with the federal law."

The judge's 2018 ruling found that the NRC violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it left Powertech's license in effect without a site survey, but did not vacate the license, citing "disruptive consequences" - including possible negative effects to the company's stock price.

Parsons said he believes the Powertech license to mine uranium for use in nuclear power plants should have been suspended or rescinded pending the cultural survey. Because it was not, he said, the NRC appears to care more about getting the license out the door than protecting human health and the environment.

"And the problem the tribe has with that, obviously," he said, "is that it creates the impression, if not the reality, that the issuance of a license is a forgone conclusion, regardless of impacts to culture resources."

Today's hearing, set to begin at 10 a.m. at the Hotel Alex Johnson, 523 Sixth St. in Rapid City, comes after the NRC declared a stalemate between Powertech and the Oglala Sioux Tribe and asked the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to step in. The proposed mine site is 13 miles northwest of Edgemont and about 50 miles from Pine Ridge.

The NRC order is online at nrc.gov.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD