by David Law and Chris Thomas
Public News Service - South Dakota
March 17, 2008
Casper, WY – With renewed interest in South Dakota's uranium deposits due to skyrocketing prices, groups from five states gathered in Casper over the weekend to express their concerns about uranium mining and its environmental effects. Representatives of the South Dakota Sierra Club and nine other organizations from North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming attended the conclave.
Shirley Frederick, South Dakota Sierra Club Black Hills chair, said they're worried that companies using the "in situ" uranium mining technique will contaminate local and regional water supplies. "In situ" is Latin for "in place;" it means the uranium is extracted where it's found, inside a strata of sandstone. The Dewey-Burdock Project, located in South Dakota's Custer and Fall River Counties, would use this type of mining technique, she said.
"Powertech is going to be injecting a solution dissolving uranium in the aquifer, removing most of the uranium and then re-injecting the solution in the systems until the uranium has been extracted. However, there has never been an ISL uranium mine that has returned the water quality to its original level. So, we're going to be seeing radioactive water."
Uranium mining companies that employ the method say their procedures are safe and they follow strict federal and state environmental guidelines. But Frederick says there are still many unanswered questions, and she believes it would be better for the state and nation to consider types of power generation other than nuclear.
"We assume that's where this uranium is going to go, into nuclear power plants. Is that the direction we want our country to go? Or do we want to look at renewable sources such as solar, wind energy, geothermal and the many other renewable, environmentally benign energy sources that are out there?"
Water is a precious resource, Frederick says, warning that it especially needs protection in the West, where it's in short supply. Shes hopes South Dakota residents will hold state and federal regulators responsible for protecting water resources.