Uranium was discovered in the Edgemont area in the 1950s, and the scars of surface uranium mining can still be seen.
Powertech Uranium Corp.'s history is not nearly as long. The company acquired the property now called the Dewey Burdock Project in 2005 from Denver Uranium Corp.
Powertech proposes to access uranium ore at Dewey Burdock, not by surface digging but by an in situ recovery process that would pump water from acquifers deep below the surface, pump oxygenated water into the formation where the uranium ore is located, then draw the solution to the surface where the ore will be separated from the water.
That's the process.
What's Powertech's track record using the in situ recovery process to extract uranium?
There is no track record, because Dewey Burdock will be Powertech's first operation of any kind to extract uranium.
Powertech is in the process of obtaining the permits it needs to begin operations, possibly as early as next year. It recently obtained preliminary approval for an operating license from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Before it can begin extracting ore, Powertech also will need the approval of the state Board of Minerals and Environment, state Water Management Board and federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Last week, the Fall River County Commission opposed the project, but indicated it would give its OK if its concerns about water and other issues are answered.
So far, however, nothing has come up that would indicate the project won't get what it needs to begin operating.
We are not opposed to mining or to Powertech. Just about everything that surrounds us was taken from its natural environment and made into something useful. Uranium is a naturally occurring element that has its uses.
Powertech wants to extract hard-to-get-to uranium ore and sell it for a profit. There's nothing wrong with that.
Before we give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the Dewey Burdock project, we have a few questions.
- Powertech has never done anything like the Dewey Burdock Project before. What assurances are there that it won't make damaging rookie mistakes?
- In situ recovery is a complicated process. What assurances are there that Powertech will be competent at something it's never done before?
- Where has in situ recovery of uranium been done before? What are the dangers?
- The process involves removing water from the Madison aquifer and injecting it into the formation containing the uranium. How safe is this process in terms of possibly polluting the Madison or nearby water wells?
- The project will remove up to 8,500 gallons of water per minute. Are the aquifers capable of replenishing that much water during a drought?
- What happens to the extracted water and waste ore after the uranium is removed?
- How much bond will Powertech have to post to ensure reclamation and potential damages costs are met? Will that be enough?
Powertech's Dewey Burdock Project is a huge undertaking by a company without a record to examine. Questions have to be answered; doubts have to be eased.
Powertech's project could bring good-paying jobs to a part of the state with a desperate need for economic growth; or it could bring environmental disaster. Either way, let's not live to regret the decision by rushing to judgment.