Powertech USA has submitted an application to mine for uranium in southwestern South Dakota using a process that involves drilling into a uranium-bearing formation and pumping chemicals into it which dissolve the uranium. The solution is then pumped to the surface and the uranium is extracted. The process is called In Situ Leach (ISL) Mining.
We [a local advocacy group] believe that the process is inherently dangerous to the aquifers that are often in close proximity to the ore-bearing formations. Since the ISL process occurs several hundred to several thousand feet beneath the surface, spills that are typical of all leach mining are invisible.
The chemicals used to dissolve the ore, such as hydrogen peroxide and sulfuric acid, might not be overly dangerous when diluted by the aquifer, but there is no way to monitor the escape of dissolved uranium into the aquifer. Consider the ramifications of tens of thousands of water wells delivering uranium-contaminated water into homes and onto corn and alfalfa fields all over southwestern South Dakota and the sandhills of Nebraska.
We asked a hydrogeology expert to review Powertech’s application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The application runs to almost 6000 pages, including a technical report, an evironmental report, and supplements.
Among his findings, which he admits being perfunctory because did not have time to fully analyze Powertech’s assertions, are:
1. The documents are quite disorganized, with little consistency between the various documents, and frequently presenting information and interpretations in a technically inadequate manner.
2. The reports fail to provide the most important information necessary to commenting intelligently on these matters.
Table 2.7-27: Quarterly Sampled Groundwater Quality Well Data; Table 2.7-29: Additional Well Data: the reader has no way of knowing what sampling dates are represented. The total depths and screened intervals for many of the wells listed in Table 2.7-27 are not known. Hence, how can the reader reasonably interpret their usefulness?
Frequently the text will refer to a specific table or figure, but when the reader goes to that table or figure, it is not the one referred to. A typical example can be found on pg. 2-199 of the TR, where the text refers to Table 2.7-29, when in fact it is discussing Table 2.7-30. Such mistakes are common in these Application documents and are quite confusing to the reader.
3. No coordinated, statistically sound data set for all Baseline Water Quality (both surface and ground water) is presented in these documents—as is required by NRC standards.
4. Portions of the relevant data are scattered throughout the Appendices of the various documents, and disingenuously organized to leave out baseline data. Obviously, this approach biases the data.