Located near the South Dakota/Wyoming border north of Edgemont, Powertech (USA) Inc.’s Dewey-Burdock Project will utilize the in situ recovery (ISR) method of extracting uranium. In ISR, native groundwater is fortified with oxygen and carbon dioxide and circulated through the ore zone, dissolving uranium and removing it from the surface of sand grains in the formation. It is pumped to the surface and the uranium removed. The water is then re-circulated through the ore zone. The process does not affect the structural stability of the formation.
The lead federal regulating agency, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), recently issued a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) for the Dewey-Burdock Project. It contains NRC’s determination that Powertech can meet or exceed all applicable health and environmental standards.
With environmental and safety concerns thoroughly addressed in the DSEIS, anti-nuclear activists have now focused their attention on water consumption and have written numerous forums and letters that grossly overstate water consumption and misstate the facts regarding the Dewey-Burdock Project.
In order to operate, Powertech must satisfy the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s requirements for two water-related permits and obtain three water-related permits from the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), in addition to the NRC license and BLM Plan of Operation.
One DENR application involves 551 gallons per minute (gpm) peak flow (operations will use a much lower rate) from the Madison aquifer. The other is for up to 274.2 acre-feet of water from the Inyan Kara aquifer.
The consumed water during operations would average about 170 gpm. This is less than three-dozen water hoses running at a typical 5 gpm -- a mere 2 percent of the 8,500 gpm that will be recirculating through the ore body.
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Recharge for the Inyan Kara in the project area is calculated at 1,400 acre feet per year, current total use is 327 acre feet and Powertech’s water use will be 274.2 acre feet (less than 20 percent of recharge), leaving 798.8 acre feet for reserve and future use.
Similarly, the Madison has plenty of water. Its recharge is 137,000 acre feet, with current use at 55,000 acre feet and the Dewey-Burdock water right will be for 888.8 acre feet of water (about 6.5 percent of recharge).
Since the Dewey-Burdock Project is on the opposite side of the Black Hills from Rapid City, the geology and abundance of water in that part of the Madison will absolutely protect all other users of the Madison, especially any user east of the Hills.
Finally, one of the NRC’s concerns is the quality of the water before and after the ISR process. Powertech’s environmental monitoring indicates that pre-ISR baseline water quality exceeds several EPA Drinking Water Standards (DWS) by factors of a hundred or more. Radon ranges up to 1,540 times DWS, radium up to 230 times DWS, natural uranium is up to six times DWS. The poor quality water where ISR will take place is not currently suitable for humans to consume.
Powertech personnel have extensive backgrounds in the uranium industry, including ISR. I grew up in the Dewey area and live close to the Dewey-Burdock Project with my wife and four young children. I am also an organic rancher and will continue to be long after the Dewey-Burdock ISR project is up and running.
In addition to meeting or exceeding all health and environmental standards, Powertech will create 80 to 125 new jobs -- many of which will be professional technical jobs requiring degrees available at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. Simultaneously, significant revenue will flow to state and local governments as the Dewey-Burdock Project supplies much-needed uranium for clean, carbon-free electrical energy generation.