Friday, June 5, 2009

Moves on Licensing For American Leach Mines

05 June 2009

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has published its final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) for in-situ leach (ISL) uranium operations in western USA. In addition, it has changed its approach for environmental reviews of new ISL facilities.

Crow Butte (Cameco)
Cameco's Crow Butte ISL mine in Nebraska (Image: Cameco)
The NRC expects around 17 licence applications for ISL milling facilities by 2010, including new facilities and the expansion or restart of existing operations. The ISL technique works by pumping an acidic or alkaline solution directly into sandstone-hosted uranium deposits to dissolve the uranium, which is then processed for extraction.

The commission noted, "Given that the large majority of these potential license applications would involve use of the ISL process and would be submitted over a relatively short period of time, NRC decided to prepare a GEIS to support an efficient and consistent approach to reviewing site-specific license applications for ISL facilities."

The NRC said that the GEIS will "improve the efficiency of the agency’s environmental reviews of these applications by serving as a starting point for site-specific environmental reviews of these applications." It added that it expects to complete most licensing reviews within two years, "subject to available resources."

The NRC said the purpose of the GEIS is "to identify and evaluate the potential environmental impacts associated with the construction, operation, aquifer restoration, and decommissioning of in-situ leach (ISL) uranium recovery facilities. Based on discussions between uranium mining companies and the NRC staff, these facilities potentially could be located in portions of Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, and New Mexico, which are States where NRC has regulatory authority over the licensing of uranium recovery facilities."

The draft GEIS was published in July 2008 and was open to public comment until 26 September.

Greater public participation

Meanwhile, the NRC will require more detailed environmental studies of proposed new in-situ uranium mines in the western United States. It has announced a change in its approach for environmental reviews of new ISL facilities, giving the public greater chance to be involved in the process.

It said that instead of issuing an Environmental Assessment (EA) for a new ISL operation, as originally planned, it will now issue full a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). It said that, under the National Environmental Policy Act, "an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is the most thorough review of potential impacts of a proposed licensing action on the environment." An EIS involves extensive opportunities for public participation.

The NRC will continue to prepare EAs, which are generally not issued for public comment, for applications to expand or renew the licences of existing uranium recovery operations.

Gregory Jaczko, NRC chairman, commented: "This new approach responds to public concerns that our reviews of generic impacts common to all uranium recovery actions would overlook unique characteristics of each individual site." He added, "Citizens may have confidence in the certainty of our regulatory decisions, because our reviews will be as comprehensive and transparent as possible, with maximum opportunity for the public to participate in the process."

No comments: