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Uranium mining company seeks water permit and says the mining process is not harmful but those opposed disagree

Published: May. 3, 2021 at 7:34 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - A Canadian corporation is trying to resume the process of obtaining a water permit for uranium mining.

Uranium surface mining first started around Edgemont in the 1950′s and was shut down after just 20 years.

As recently as 15 years ago, one Canadian company tried to continue mining.

Powertech USA, a subsidiary of Azaraga Uranium in Canada, wants to mine using a method known as in situ mining.

“We inject oxygenated water into one well and we bring it out of an adjoining well and oxygenated water dissolves uranium, we bring it to surface and strip it out in a process very similar to a water softener in a house,” says project manager Mark Hollenbeck.

With this process, Hollenbeck says 98% of the water will be returned to be used again.

The water permit the company needs to move forward would allow them to use 8,500 gallons per minute, but only around 720 gallons will be used each minute with the rest returned. He compares these numbers to Rapid City’s water use.

“Rapid City, they have the ability to use 43,600. Now Rapid City on the average over a 12-month period only uses 6,500. So, what your water permitted for and what you actually use are drastically different,” said Hollenbeck.

Hollenbeck says the process is not harmful to the environment and can improve the quality of the water they return, but PHD Lilias Jarding with Black Hills Water Alliance disagrees.

“Basically what in situ leach uranium mining does it pump so much water through the aquifer, pumps out the uranium, so that it leaves all the waste from the product underground. Rather than having piles of waste above ground that people can see, the waste remains underground in the water aquifers,” says Jarding. “It pollutes the aquifers and are removed by the Environmental Protection Agency from ever being used for domestic use because they become contaminated.” Jarding opposes this project because she believes it will affect both the water quality which would make the water undrinkable and because it was use more water than we can spare in a drought. Hollenbeck disagrees to both ideas.

Wednesday, Powertech will go in front of the Water Management Board for a status update and request that they reinstate the water rights hearings. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission have already given the company permits that are under legal action.

Dr. Jarding says if the state starts the permit process up again and if the courts turn down one of the federal permits…it would be using state funds towards a project that would be wasted.

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