Chinese and Canadian-funded Powertech wants to mine uranium in the Southern Black Hills by the in situ method — dissolving uranium in the aquifer, pumping it to the surface for extraction, then dumping polluted water deep into the Earth.
Twice before, foreign corporations mined uranium in the Hills and left a radioactive mess. The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources lists 263 abandoned uranium sites in the state. Radioactive material and toxic heavy metals have polluted tributaries of several South Dakota rivers.
We needn’t repeat the mistakes of neighboring states. The Crow Butte mine near Crawford, Neb., has a long history of spills and “excursions” of radioactive water into the aquifer. And the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality cited the Smith Ranch/Highland mine near Glenrock, Wyo., for “an inordinate number of spills, leaks and other releases … pond leaks, well casing failures and excursions.” The cleanup was projected to cost $150 million, four times the company’s bond.
Below the Inyan Kara aquifer that Powertech wants to mine lies the Minnelusa aquifer, then the Madison, all vital to future life in the region. A study of risks to the Madison aquifer by three South Dakota School of Mines and Technology researchers concluded that “Water supplies for Rapid City … and the surrounding suburban and rural areas are extremely vulnerable to contamination.”
The DENR’s mission statement is clear — “protecting South Dakota’s environment and natural resources for today and tomorrow.” Unfortunately, our Legislature passed a law –– written by Powertech lobbyists –– that tied the hands of the DENR to do its job.
If in situ uranium mining pollutes the water vital to life, tourism and ranching in the Southern Hills, we might know in a year or two, or perhaps only after Powertech is gone. That is a chance we cannot afford to take. The Powertech mine must be stopped.