When I toured the site of Azarga’s (then Powertech’s) proposed uranium mining site north of Edgemont in 2014, the project leaders told me that their in-situ recovery mining processes do not threaten the health of Black Hills water supplies or residents. Landowner and Powertech consultant Mark Hollenbeck said ISR processes leave less radium in the wastewater they reïnject into the ground than the water has when it comes up in the mining process. Water injected back into the Madison aquifer beneath his land moves through the sandstone at seven feet per year, meaning any contaminants that slipped through Azarga/Powertech’s wastewater treatment processes would move one mile in 750 years. Powertech CEO Richard Clement (who is still in a top slot at Azarga) also rejected claims that Powertech would build a big processing plant in anticipation of handling business from other uranium mining companies; Clement said his company was the only one looking at mining the Black Hills for uranium.
The Council for Responsible Mining, a South Dakota activist group, isn’t buying Azarga/Powertech’s assurances. In the run-up to EPA hearings on its draft permits for Azarga/Powertech’s Black Hills uranium mining, the Council for Responsible Mining releases this dark, provocative video contending that the foreign-owned Azarga is planning to turn its site into a toxic waste dump for numerous companies:
The contention here is that Azarga is aiming to turn a profit from toxic-waste disposal before it ever starts looking for uranium. The draft permit fact sheet indicates EPA is permitting four Class V wastewater injection wells; Azarga’s application asks for an additional four, which EPA says would have to be approved through another process with public comment. CRM contends that comparable uranium-mining operations require only one or two disposal injection wells.
This argument appears to tack toward the strong opposition that has surfaced from numerous quarters to the Deep Borehole Field Test. Opposition to what seems like a pretty cool geological engineering project, proposed first in Clark County and now in Haakon County, has revolved around concerns that the Department of Energy project would bring nuclear waste to South Dakota, despite assurances from project leaders at every turn that the Deep Borehole Field Test is a field test and would not involve any nuclear waste. Those concerns persuaded a nearly unanimous Legislature to pass House Bill 1071 this year, which will require the Legislature to approve any deposits of “containment, disposal, or deposit of high level and nuclear fuel cycle wastes, defense wastes, nuclear wastes, radioactive substances, or radioactively contaminated materials.” (Note that HB 1071 may or may not apply to whatever Azarga would pump down its boreholes: CRM refers to “radioactive toxic waste” but not necessarily “high level” radioactive waste.)
So is this video a clever repackaging of the Azarga proposal from uranium mining to multi-corporation toxic waste dump, or, with uranium prices still low, is Azarga really looking to toxic waste as its alternative business plan? Expect to hear comment on that question and more at next week’s hearings in Rapid City, Hot Springs, and Edgemont.