The proposed uranium mine near Edgemont received a license for the project Tuesday from the Nuclear Regulatory Agency and opponents say they are already working to overturn it.
The NRC license is one of several permits that Powertech Uranium Corp. — which is in the process of merging with its financiers to become Azarga Uranium Corp. — will need to begin building its proposed Dewey-Burdock mine.
"We certainly expected this," said Mark Hollenbeck, project manager for the Dewey-Burdock project. "We have confidence in our science and we had confidence in our team putting together the applications."
Mine opponents, however, were alarmed with the NRC's issuing of the license before a scheduled hearing in August that will hear arguments against the project.
"Just because a pro-nuclear agency has given this a green light doesn't mean it's a good idea," said Lilias Jarding of Clean Water Alliance.
Hollenbeck says it is standard practice for the NRC to issue a license before necessarily resolving contentions.
An attorney working with the opponents said they will ask a judge to issue a stay against the license.
"We're taking all necessary procedural steps to do that and we will file by the deadline," said David Frankel, an attorney representing Clean Water Alliance and other opponents.
The proposed Dewey-Burdock mine, which would be about 15 miles northwest of Edgemont, would employ scores of in-situ mines — underground sites where the company would inject oxygenated water into the ground to absorb uranium. The water would then be pumped back to the surface, where uranium would be extracted and processed.
The mine, which would sit within an 11,000-acre site, is projected to recover 1 million pounds of uranium annually for eight years. If successful, the mine could be kept in service longer and extended across the border into Wyoming, where Powertech also holds uranium claims.
Mining opponents have a host of objections to the mine, saying it could pollute or drain the region's aquifers. The August hearings will deal with, among other items, claims that the mine would upset Indian burial grounds and the possibility that water polluted by the mining could spread to the region's aquifers.
But Hollenbeck says those hearings can only change so much and can't derail the license.
"You can contend an issue on the license," he said, "but you can't contend an entire license."
The Environmental Protection Agency, which also must approve the project, has indicated it will issue a draft permit for Dewey-Burdock some time this month, according to Hollenbeck.
Powertech has not been in touch yet with either of the two state permit boards on when to restart hearings into the project, Hollenbeck said.
Both boards suspended hearings late last year until the NRC and EPA decided on the project.
If necessary, opponents have vowed to appeal the decisions after the hearings.
This is the fourth license to a uranium mining operation that the NRC has issued since 1998, according to an NRC press release.