2009-09-01 / Front Page

Uranium Mining Expert tours Pine Ridge

By Deb White Plume Special to The Times

PINERIDGE - Dr. Gavin Mudd of Australia, a world renowned uranium mining expert, spent several days in the area, meeting with Lakota people and organizations effected by uranium mining. "There has never been an In Situ Leach (ISL) uranium mine that has been able to return groundwater to it's baseline (pre-mining) water quality," according to Dr. Mudd, an active researcher and advocate on the environmental impacts and management of mining for over a decade. Dr. Mudd, an environmental engineer at Monash University, was hosted by Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way) and Alignment for Responsible Mining.

(above l-r) Dr. Mudd and Debra White Plume (above l-r) Dr. Mudd and Debra White Plume Dr. Mudd toured the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which is 30 miles as the crow flies from the nearest ISL uranium mine, at Crawford, NE. Cameco, Inc. (a Canadian based corporation) operates the Crow Butte uranium mine, and has applied to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission for an expansion license to open another ISL uranium mine called the North Trend. Cameco has applied for a renewal license for its Crow Butte mine, and has changed the name from "Crow Butte Mine" to "Cameco".

During 2007, several Lakota organizations and individuals and others began opposing Cameco's mining applications in front of the federal Atomic Licensing Board. Owe Aku, Western Nebraska Resource Council, Joe American Horse Tiospaye, the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council, Beatrice Holy Dance, Debra White Plume, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Bruce MacIntosh, and the Tom Cook Tiwahe were granted Intervener status to challenge Cameco's license renewal and expansion to the first of three more uranium mines in the Nebraska panhan- dle, where Pine Ridge's southern border meets the Nebraska state line. Surface water from the mine area travels to the Pine Ridge, and recent studies show that faults and fractures in the aquifer at the Cameco mine site connect to the drinking water aquifers of the Pine Ridge. This groundwater mixing is a major contention of the Interveners.

"Recent drinking water quality tests reveal alpha emitters (radiation) above the legal limit in a dozen homes across the Pine Ridge. Drinking water tested came from deep wells and the Mni Wiconi pipeline. According to Reno Red Cloud, Director of Mni Wiconi, the water is tested at the pump house and results show the drinking water is free of contaminants. Since the pipeline is often laid in the alluvium level of groundwater, are contaminants entering the pipeline from the alluvium?" questions Debra White Plume. "Uranium mining in Edgemont, SD left its legacy of radioactive waste which may have traveled on the surface and through groundwater to the Pine Ridge and there are now over 8,000 well holes punched through the aquifer at Cameco's uranium mine at Crawford that are used to high-pressure inject carbonated water underground to the uranium ore, and to pull the ore above ground for processing into yellow cake. This ISL mine-site groundwater can move through fractures and travel over time to our drinking water source. How will the corporation be able to clean this up?"

Bill Von Till of the Uranium Recovery Branch of the NRC that regulates ISL uranium mining said at a recent hearing, "What the groundwater community has found over the years is that trying to achieve cleanup to background (pre-mining) water quality is virtually impossible." Dr. Mudd agrees, it is not possible to clean it up.

While in the US, Dr. Mudd also met with the Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction, whose goal is to prevent Powertech, Inc.'s planned ISL uranium mine near Ft Collins. Powertech has applied for an ISL uranium mining permit northwest of Edgemont, SD. Dr. Mudd has devoted his career to uranium mining issues and his research includes aquifer storage and recovery, groundwater dependent ecosystems and groundwater geochemistry.

Dr. Mudd has extensive involvement in examining on a global level the underlying scientific issues associated with uranium mining. He has developed a unique understanding of the multidisciplinary nature of the environmental aspects of mining, and has active research interests in groundwater management and assessments, especially with respect to climate change and sustainability. Dr. Mudd's home of Australia is the location of the world's richest uranium deposit. Cameco, Inc. is in Australia now, working to obtain permits to mine uranium at Alice Springs, where Families For A Nuclear Free Future poses a challenge to Cameco.

Cameco plans to expand to open two more ISL uranium mines north of Crawford and now operates two ISL uranium mines in Wyoming. Last year, Cameco paid Wyoming $1.5 million for environmental quality violations at its' Smith- Highland ISL mines, and paid $100,000 to Nebraska for violations at its Crawford mine.

Cameco has disposed of 3 million gallons of toxic waste under the aquifers at Crawford. ISL uranium mining is applauded by the mining industry as "cleaner" than openpit or underground mining, because the waste is "less" and not visible. From the viewpoint of many experts, although the waste is not visible, it is still there. From the mine at Crawford, some radioactive sludge is shipped to a nuclear waste dump, the rest is mixed with groundwater then disposed of deep underground, as a liquid. Will the NRC continue to grant licenses for the production of more yellow cake and its faithful companion: nuclear waste?

The hearing regarding the Cameo uranium mines in Nebraska will be scheduled by the Atomic Licensing Board and is open to the public.

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