NRC Holds Public Meetings about Generic Environmental Impact Statement for Uranium Mining
August 22, 2008
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has scheduled public meetings in New Mexico, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska about the draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement for In-Situ Leach Uranium Milling Facilities (draft GEIS). The public meetings will begin on Monday, August 25 and continue until September 25.
The NRC has created four regions within the western United States for generic analysis. The NRC, with the cooperation of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, released the draft GEIS in late July. www.nrc.gov.
The National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) requires that the NRC evaluate the environmental impacts associated with the construction, operation, and decommissioning of existing and proposed in-situ leach (ISL) facilities.
Licensing of such operations is the responsibility of the NRC in those states covered by the GEIS. The federal agency states that nearly 75 percent of any of the new license applications submitted over the next two to three years will be for ISL operations. They hope to incorporate the generic analysis into reviews of the environmental impacts at specific sites within the four regions.
ISL mining allows for the injection of chemical liquids into the aquifer in order to destabilize radioactive and other toxic minerals. The solution of uranium-rich groundwater is then pumped to the surface, where the mining company removes as much uranium and other heavy metals as is financially feasible. The remaining solution is re-injected into the aquifer, where it can contaminate groundwater. The chemical reaction between the injected chemicals and the natural ore causes irreversible changes in the geochemistry that can also result in long-term and untreatable contamination. For more than 30 years, companies have been mining using ISL methods. But no company has ever been able to reclaim groundwater to pre-mining conditions. In fact, the only way that companies have ever been able to meet permit requirements is for groundwater restoration regulations to be relaxed by regulators, as has happened repeatedly in Texas and Wyoming.
One of the main concerns with the document is that it is inadequate to meet NEPA requirements. For example, the analysis of the impacts to water resources is insufficient. Critical information has been omitted and the information that has been included is not fully analyzed.
Eric Jantz, of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said, "The scope of the GEIS is artificially limited and ends up being so constrained to be almost meaningless. For example, the NRC decided that analyzing cumulative impacts of new ISL mining combined with contamination from historic uranium mining and milling is outside the scope of the draft GEIS. As a result of this and other significant shortcomings, community organizations need additional time to gather information about the technical issues in order to adequately and intelligently comment on the GEIS."
All of the meetings will be held from 7 to 9:30 pm. There will be an opportunity for informal discussions with NRC staff between 6 and 7 pm. The NRC recommends that those wishing to make public comment to pre-register at least seven days before the meeting by calling 1-800-368-5642, extension 7843. People may also register to speak at the meeting.
The first meeting will be held in Spearfish, South Dakota on Monday, August 25 at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Convention Center.
A meeting will be held in Chadron, Nebraska on Wednesday, August 27 at the Chadron State College.
Another meeting will be held in Newcastle, Wyoming on Friday, August 29 at the Weston Senior Center.
The first meeting in New Mexico is scheduled for Gallup on Monday, September 8 at the Best Western Inn & Suites.
The second meeting is scheduled for Grants on Tuesday, September 9 at the Best Western Inn & Suites.
The final New Mexico meeting is scheduled for Albuquerque on Thursday, September 11 at the Hilton Albuquerque, located at 1901 University Boulevard NE.
Two more meetings are scheduled for Wyoming. A meeting is scheduled for Casper on Tuesday, September 23, at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel.
The final meeting is scheduled for Gillette on Thursday, September 25, at the Best Western Tower West Lodge.
Written comments will be accepted until October 7, 2008 and may be submitted to NRCREP.Resource@nrc.gov/