RAPID CITY | A mining company must release the results of a geological survey that opponents of its proposed uranium mine in western South Dakota say are necessary to ensure that local aquifers are protected, a federal licensing board of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled Wednesday.
The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board continued its hearings Wednesday at the Hotel Alex Johnson, where three NRC judges are hearing challenges to a license granted to Powertech/Azarga for its proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium mine.
The intervenors in the case — members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and other parties opposed to the mining — had been pushing for data Powertech purchased from the Tennessee Valley Authority, which in the 1970s and 1980s drilled throughout the region to find concentrations of uranium ore, among other things.
The intervenors assert that not enough data have been studied to know whether the region's aquifers would be contaminated or depleted if the company were to mine.
Powertech plans to use a method known as in-situ uranium recovery, which would pump groundwater fortified with oxygen and carbon dioxide into the underground ore deposits to dissolve the uranium. The water would be pumped back to the surface, where the uranium would be extracted and sold to nuclear power plants.
Dr. Robert Moran, who testified at the request of the intervenors, said making the data available would allow the geologists to better understand how the region's groundwater could be affected if the company starts mining in the area.
Powertech attorney Christopher Pugsley said the reason his clients didn't release the data is that they think it's irrelevant to the licensing process and it will not show the information opponents are hoping for. He said releasing information with a confidentiality agreement to the intervenors wouldn't change the license process going forward.
The public will not have access to the information, the judges ruled.