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Uranium mine hearings to continue in November

Powertech crews conduct tests in the field. The company hopes to gain state approval to mine for uranium near Edgemont. (Powertech photo)

RAPID CITY (AP) — A decision on a proposed uranium mine in southwestern South Dakota won’t be made for at least a couple more months.

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Powertech Uranium Corp. wants to build a mine near Edgemont, which would a method known as in-situ recovery — pumping water fortified with oxygen and carbon dioxide into underground ore deposits to dissolve the uranium, The Rapid City Journal reported. The water is then pumped back to the surface, and the uranium is extracted and sold to nuclear power plants.

Powertech officials say the method will not pollute groundwater, but the company’s testimony did little to ease the concerns of 77-year-old Rodney Knudson, a retired teacher and librarian.

“There are too many examples, unfortunately of (in situ) operations that have gone awry,” he said at a contested hearing last week.

The state Board of Minerals and Environment held the hearing to determine whether it should issue a permit for the proposed mine about 15 miles northwest of Edgemont. The contested hearing, which is similar to a jury trial, will continue in Rapid City during the week of Nov. 11-15.

Supporters say the mine, initially proposed years ago, would bring jobs to the Edgemont area and tax revenue to the region and state, while opponents worry about possible harm to the environment.

The state’s review is limited, due to a law passed by the Legislature in 2011 that prevents the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources from duplicating federal regulation of underground injection wells and in-situ mining. A Powertech lobbyist wrote the bill.

Powertech plans to inject wastewater underground, rather than spraying it across surface land.

Company hydrologist Hal Demuth said that elevation levels taper off around the project, groundwater will flow southwest, away from population centers. He said it’s difficult for water to move between aquifers, because of shale beds that separate them.

“I think he’s doing a great job showing how this process does work, and why it does work safely,” Dewey-Burdock Project Manager Mark Hollenbeck said of Demuth.

Michael Hickey, attorney for the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, said the board must reject the permit because Powertech omitted details in its applications.

Until the hearing, Hickey said, Powertech hadn’t told of its desire to dispose wastewater in deep underground wells that reach into the Deadwood and Minnelusa aquifers. The company also revealed during the hearings that it plans to also mine for vanadium, a mineral used to make car and jet parts, he said.