Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Uranium mining permits go 'generic'

NRC tries to cover a lot of ground by combining environmental issues for in-situ recovery

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's work on a "generic" environmental study, which will be used in licensing reviews of in-situ leach (ISL) uranium mining operations, probably comes too late for Powertech (TSE:PWE), a Canadian firm planning to permit an ISL mine near Nunn, Colo, about 15 miles northeast of Ft.Collins.

There green groups spun up a political whirlwind that carried them all the way to Denver where the State Legislature passed a new law imposing stiff requirements for groundwater protection on uranium miners using the process. This was not an auspicious start for an ISR mine, and it sent a chill throughout the entire Colorado mining community.

What's a generic EIS?

Generic_footballFor the public, which is probably scratching its collective noggins over the combination of the terms 'generic' and 'environmental', the explanation may lie in trying to substitute a soccer ball for a football. They are both round, but some important specific are left out which make all the difference. This is the nature of the challenge facing the NRC. When the NRC first announced this idea last year, it kicked up political dust devils throughout Wyoming and New Mexico.

Too many applications - not enough NRC permit writers

The NRC currently expects to receive 20 applications for new uranium recovery operations and 10 applications for expansion or restart of existing facilities through 2011. Most of them will be in Wyoming or New Mexico.

About 75 percent of them are expected to be for in-situ leach operations. By addressing common issues associated with environmental reviews of these facilities, the NRC staff plans to use the GEIS as a starting point for its site-specific environmental analyses of individual license applications or as a supplement to previous environmental analyses of existing sites. A reasonable translation is that the NRC simply hasn't got enough people to get their arms wrapped around every application in every detail.

That's quite a plan and one that will likely be tested by environmental groups much more interested in the site-specific nature of each ISR permit. So far there hasn't been much comment, but watch this space once the public meetings start up next month. See the schedule below for dates.

Meetings and more meetings

The federal regulators will hold a series of public meetings in Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and New Mexico, the four states where uranium milling companies have indicated interest in applying for new NRC licenses. Staff members will present the findings of the draft GEIS and accept oral and written comments.

The meetings will be held Aug. 25 in Spearfish, S.D.; Aug. 27 in Chadron, Neb.; Aug. 29 in Newcastle, Wyo.; Sept. 8 in Gallup, N.M.; Sept. 9 in Grants, N.M.; Sept. 11 in Albuquerque, N.M.; Sept. 23 in Gillette, Wyo.; and Sept. 25 in Casper, Wyo.

NRC wants your comments

The draft GEIS is available on the NRC Web site at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/sr1910/

Public comments will be accepted on the GEIS through Oct. 7. They may be addressed to:

Chief, Rules Review and Directives Branch
Mailstop T6-D59
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Washington, D.C., 20555-0001.

Comments may also be submitted by electronic mail to NRCREP.Resource@nrc.gov. Be sure to include “Uranium Recovery GEIS” in the subject line or your prose will be reduced to spam.

And here's the abstract from the official notice. Blogs only publish abstracts. If you want to whole meal deal, you'll have to hunt it down on the NRC's web site. See the URL above for a starting point.

Abstract for Uranium Generic EIS

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has prepared a Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (Draft GEIS) to identify and evaluate potential environmental impacts associated with the construction, operation, aquifer restoration, and decommissioning of in-situ leach (ISL) uranium recovery facilities for identified regions in the western United States. Based on discussions between uranium mining companies and the NRC staff, ISL facilities could be located in portions of Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, and New Mexico. NRC is the licensing authority for ISL facilities in these states.

NRC developed this Draft GEIS using . . .

(1) knowledge gained during the past 30 years licensing and regulating ISL facilities,

(2) the active participation of the State of Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality as a cooperating agency, and

(3) public comments received during the scoping period for the GEIS. NRC's research indicates that the technology used for ISL uranium recovery is relatively standardized throughout the industry and therefore appropriate for a programmatic evaluation in a GEIS.

As a framework for the analyses presented in this GEIS, NRC has identified four geographic regions based on

* Past and existing uranium milling sites are located within States where NRC has regulatory authority over uranium recovery;

* Potential new sites are identified based on NRC's understanding of where the uranium recovery industry has plans to develop uranium deposits using ISL technology; and

* Locations of historical uranium deposits within portions of Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, and New Mexico.

& & &

That's all folks, at least for now.

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