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Federal licensing board hears testimony on mine

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 19, 2014 at 8:16 pm •  Published: August 19, 2014

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — A licensing board of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission tasked with approving a South Dakota uranium mine questioned expert witnesses Tuesday to determine whether commission staff members adequately consulted Native Americans and met legal requirements for protecting historical and cultural resources before signing off on the mine.

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board held the first of its three-day hearings in Rapid City in a ballroom of the historic Hotel Alex Johnson that has been transformed into a federal courtroom for the week.

Tuesday's hearings focused primarily on two contentions from the Oglala Sioux Tribe and a group of concerned parties, or "consolidated intervenors."

Members of the tribe are challenging a license granted to Powertech Uranium Corp. for its proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium mine. They're challenging on the grounds that tribal governments were not adequately consulted in cultural and historical surveys performed on the proposed site and sufficient studies weren't performed to ensure cultural artifacts are preserved as required by law.

The tribe and the intervenors want previous decisions allowing for a Powertech license to be remanded. They also seek more intensive studies to be done before mining can begin.

Powertech plans to use a method known as in-situ uranium recovery, which would pump groundwater fortified with oxygen and carbon dioxide into the underground ore deposits to dissolve the uranium. The water would be pumped back to the surface, where the uranium would be extracted and sold to nuclear power plants.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff members testified Tuesday that they had done their due diligence compiling environmental surveys, saying they consulted with many Native American tribes for input and that ultimately several Sioux tribes didn't end up participating in the study despite being asked for input.

"The NRC staff maintains that it went to the great lengths to address tribal cultural issues and in particular was praised by the advisory committee on historic preservation for the lengths to which it went on these matters," said Eliot Brenner, the lead spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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