A hearing has been scheduled in Rapid City as part of the long-running regulatory review of a proposed uranium mine near Edgemont.
The federal Atomic Safety and Licensing Board will open the hearing at 10 a.m. Aug. 28 at the Hotel Alex Johnson in Rapid City. The hearing will continue as necessary through 5 p.m. Aug. 30.
Direct participation in the hearing will be limited to the involved parties and their attorneys and witnesses, but the public will be allowed to attend.
The hearing is intended as another step toward resolving a 10-year-old dispute about the potential presence of Native American historical, cultural and religious sites within the proposed mining area.
An April 29 written order from the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board said the staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Oglala Sioux Tribe have reached a “firm impasse” over the proposed methodology for a site survey.
The location of the proposed mine is 13 miles northwest of Edgemont, near the abandoned community of Burdock and the hamlet of Dewey along the southwest edge of the Black Hills. The Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Pine Ridge Reservation is about 50 miles from the mine location, but the Black Hills were part of the former Great Sioux Reservation and still play a prominent role in Oglala Sioux spirituality.
The clash over the site survey has grown convoluted since it began in 2009.
That was the year Powertech — a subsidiary of Canada-based Azarga Uranium — applied to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to mine uranium for use in nuclear power plants. The commission granted the license in 2014, even though the lack of a cultural resources survey remained an unresolved contention.
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In 2015, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board acknowledged the lack of a site survey and directed the staff of the NRC to remedy the problem.
Meanwhile, the NRC decided to leave Powertech’s license in effect. In 2017, the tribe petitioned for a review of that decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Last year, the court ruled in favor of the tribe. The court said the NRC violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it left Powertech’s license in effect without a site survey.
Since then, according to the NRC, further efforts to negotiate a survey methodology with the tribe have been fruitless. The dispute is multifaceted and has included arguments about the appropriate contractor, the need for interviews with tribal elders, the cost and funding of the survey, the inclusion of additional tribes, and other factors.
In April, the NRC declared a stalemate and asked the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to schedule a hearing on the matter, and the board obliged. After the August hearing, the board will presumably order a course of action to resolve the survey contention.
The NRC license is one of many licenses and permits needed for the mine. Powertech's other applications to entities including the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of South Dakota have been on hold while the NRC license has been mired in the survey dispute.
The August hearing will be at least the fourth time that hearings on the Powertech mine proposal have come to Rapid City. The past hearings were conducted in 2017 by the EPA, in 2014 by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, and in 2013 by the South Dakota Water Management Board.