Press "Enter" to skip to content

Opponents Claim Azarga Plans to Dump Other Companies’ Toxic Waste in Black Hills

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.


  1. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-03 08:54

    If by toxic material you mean uranium wastes, you wouldn’t want to use past drilling sites or future ISR sites that will not be deep enough and cannot be engineered for containment for any deep borehole disposal. Furthermore, the geothermal gradient in that area (hey, there is a hot springs), is not conducive to siting a deep borehole facility there.

    Like I have said before, there is probably a way to let wind energy provide the power to continually clean the water prior to re-injection. You would have to account for its intermittency with holding tanks/ponds and have somewhere to store the wastes that you extract. But if you want to clean the water in a sustainable fashion, and wind energy is that great, then it should be possible.

    Why aren’t opponents supporting remediation powered by wind energy along with extensive environmental monitoring?

  2. Rorschach 2017-05-03 11:03

    If China doesn’t want its toxic uranium mining wastewater South Dakota will take it. North Carolina won’t, but we’re not as bad as North Carolina.

  3. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-03 11:23

    What does China do with the mining wastes and wastewater associated with rare earth extraction? Isn’t China part of Mother Earth?

  4. jerry 2017-05-03 12:42

    China does what China does, Russia does what putin wants, the United States does what putin wants…hey, that is the ticket, let us get putin to be against it.

  5. Rorschach 2017-05-03 13:23

    What does China do with carbon from its coal burning power plants, Robert? Feeds it to its people expediting their return to mother earth. Trump says if we can’t beat them we should join them. And he prefers their cheap aluminum and steel over American aluminum and steel for his buildings.

  6. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-03 14:10

    If only there were a way to displace the burning of coal..;^).

    I am with you on cheaper steel and aluminum. The price is right….until you have to keep paying for it again and again to replace it, or to deal with liabilities that ensue when structures fail.

    But the same thinking is behind massive coal burning. Upfront the cost is cheap, but nobody accounts for the costs that come up later. Out of sight, out of mind.

  7. jerry 2017-05-03 15:43

    trump says the North Korean dude is a “smart cookie” so why not let him sort it out.

  8. Mark Winegar 2017-05-03 19:30

    Will I see you in Rapid City next week?

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-05-03 21:56

    Not traveling, Mark! All my travel budget went into more server space. :-)

    Dr. McTaggart, we won’t have to remediate that water in the Black Hills if we don’t let Azarga mine that uranium in the first place.

  10. Donald Pay 2017-05-03 22:13

    China’s environmental laws and enforcement are in about the same place as ours were in the 1970s. A couple years ago they strengthened their laws., but implementation and enforcement haven’t been effective as of yet for a number of structural reasons. There is also corruption, especially at the local level where most enforcement is supposed to be done. In the US, we have citizen suits, which can obtain enforcement when the feds and states fail to act, as happened at the Brohm Mine, and later at other heap leach mines in the United States. They don’t have similar citizen suit provisions in China. They do have the ability to detain company heads who pollute, which is something we could use here.

  11. Adam 2017-05-04 00:09

    Azarga sucks.

  12. Clyde 2017-05-04 02:27

    Just as we have done with these oil pipe lines we can’t move fast enough to allow a foreign company to extract wealth from South Dakota that will benefit almost no one except the foreign company! And if there is a problem down the road who will have to accept the costs??

    How about a few billion in contingency money held by the state in case some compensation down the road is needed.

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-05-04 06:19

    Adam, was there a big change in the video?

    Clyde, if Trump is watching, expect his EPA to ignore any opposition comment and approve Azarga’s plan right away. As Gordon Howie has noted, Azarga has Russian connections, just like the Donald. (Alas, Howie’s line about the Clintons’ involvement in handing American uranium to Russian interests is bunk, so for more reliable info, we have to look at Powertech/Azarga’s info, which says COO John Mays worked in Kazakhstan for UrAsia, which was acquired in 2007 by Uranium One, which is owned by the Russians.)

  14. mike from iowa 2017-05-04 09:28

    Doc McT you rascal, Connecticut has rock formations putting excess uranium and arsenic in private wells. We dealing with educated rock formations?

  15. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-04 10:40


    True, no uranium mining, no remediation. But are you entirely sure you want to go that route?

    The world will burn more coal to deliver the energy it needs, because you will need it to produce the power people actually use. Coal burning spreads more radionuclides into the environment than the nuclear fuel cycle would, but apparently that is not important. Wind energy would not help clean the water to your desired levels…because if it could, then opponents would rally behind that cause. And the environmental impacts of mining necessary for renewables (like the rare earths) would also be ignored.

    Or you can deliver a lot more clean energy and show that wind energy can be used to clean our waters. Heck, that nuclear energy could help displace natural gas in load following to help wind energy avoid the generation of indirect carbon.

    Which path will deliver the energy that people need while helping the environment? Which path is pro-science?

  16. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-04 10:50


    Despite what you may have heard, both arsenic and uranium are naturally-occurring, and there are background levels of radiation that nature provides. That doesn’t mean that they occur in the same concentrations all over the place, nor that man-made activities (and natural activities too) cannot re-concentrate them.

    So environmental monitoring is a good idea with respect to measuring contaminants in our waters. There are active and passive means of separation, and there is dilution as well. It just escapes me why wind energy is not being used to power that. It would be something that could be done when the wind energy is available, so the intermittency would not be a direct issue. You may have to store waters until said energy is available, or overbuild and use energy storage, but that could be done.

  17. Adam 2017-05-04 14:23

    Really, Doc? Arsenic and uranium are naturally-occurring? I am sure many South Dakotans did not know that until you so graciously pointed that out.

    Sunflowers ain’t gonna do squat when it comes to a polluted aquifer. Being pro-nuclear is a very different task than being pro-hazardous waste injection well or pro-ISL mining. I’d prefer open pit mining to ISL in most instances.

  18. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-04 15:14

    Many are disappointed when they find out that radioactivity is actually a part of nature. “Nature is bad” is not a commonly held opinion. “Radioactivity is bad” is however.

    As I have said before, I am fine with an overabundance of environmental monitoring…air, water, and soil…and corrective actions based upon real data. Said data should be reviewed and then made publicly available.

  19. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-04 15:19

    I would prefer to extract uranium from seawater, since that would essentially make uranium a renewable (that supply would recharge after a while from runoff, etc.).

    Open-pit mining would seem to have more of a likelihood of dust dispersal and intake of uranium and its radioactive progeny by inhalation as a result, or rainwater for that matter. The ISR method can only be contemplated when certain characteristics are in place.

  20. Adam 2017-05-04 16:16

    I have never known a person who thought Uranium was a man made element, and I wouldn’t be interested in getting to know one of them either.

    Quite wasting your time on those people, Doc. If those people actually exist, they are hopeless.

  21. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-04 17:25

    Getting the local recycled water close to or below the natural background levels is what they are trying to do. Zero is not practical, but that doesn’t stop people from asking for it.

  22. Adam 2017-05-09 16:05

    Anti-Azarga/Powertech folks aren’t looking to force radiation down to zero in the wastewater as much as they are worried about all the toxicological effects of all the other non-radioactive heavy metal hazardous wastes being injected into a volitile location under the surface.

    That’s what this is all about. Not radiation emitting waste but all the other ways toxic waste is truly toxic.

  23. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-09 16:21

    See the first link above….

    ” “I would be glad to drink the treated water after it comes out of the plant,” said Mark Hollenbeck, project director for Powertech.”

  24. Adam 2017-05-09 16:36

    You friends with Marky? Is that why you take his word for it?

    I have also heard him say, “the waste water is so pure, you can almost swim in it.”

    It’s “pure” water, that’s why need a hazardous waste permit to inject it into the ground – hog wash.

    The dude has presented radiation hormesis in Rapid City public schools – to our children – selling lies as truth – and for many additional reason’s the guy has no integrity.

  25. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-09 16:42

    Isn’t there a difference between the residues collected by the exchange columns and the water that comes out of that process that is recycled?

  26. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-09 16:46

    “The uranium-bearing solution is pumped to a central processing plant, which uses ion exchange to separate the uranium and concentrate it. Waste from this process is specific in nature (e.g. filters, piping), is relatively small in volume, and can be disposed in a tailings pile at a conventional mill site or at a licensed disposal facility. Liquid wastes are generally disposed of in permitted deep disposal wells, evaporation pads, spray irrigation, or treated and discharged to surface water. Unlike conventional mining, tailings are not generated at ISR facilities. Monitoring and restoration of ground water is important to protect public health and the environment and is an important focus of the NRC.”

  27. Adam 2017-05-09 16:47

    ISL does not recycle all the waste water, and sure, there is a difference between yellow cake they mine out of the water and the resulting waste water after they’ve done it.

  28. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-09 16:59

    I don’t think the water that is recycled and re-used to extract uranium (and vanadium apparently) is as big of an issue as liquid wastes stored in a disposal well. One has to show those items do not have viable paths to drinking water. Don’t take my word for it, take the EPA and NRC words for it. Overmonitoring is fine with me.

    It would be interesting to compare radioactivity and toxicity of ISR wastes with wastes from oil/gas extraction or coal fly ash. The latter will occur in much greater volumes and will distribute more into the environment.

    Should it then matter that we will consume more oil/gas/coal to supplement renewables without nuclear, increasing the volume of those non-ISR wastes even further?

  29. Adam 2017-05-09 17:03

    Yeah, I’m familiar with the EPA and NRC’s general position on ISL mining, as well as the mining company positions, and that is why I oppose the crap out of it.

  30. Adam 2017-05-09 17:06

    Mark Hollenbeck would whine like a baby about how over-monitoring might kill Azarga/Powertech’s profit margins, and could likely keep them from doing business.

  31. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-09 17:24

    My point is that eliminating nuclear today will ironically distribute more radioisotopes, more toxic heavy metals, and more carbon into the environment through said oil/gas/coal extraction and consumption.

    My bad, I thought this was about keeping our water clean.

  32. Adam 2017-05-09 17:36

    No matter how much you’d like this to be about “eliminating nuclear today” it is however only about the Black Hills aquifers.

  33. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-09 17:39

    Determining whether certain concentrations exceed action levels is cheaper than monitoring for trace amounts of chemicals or isotopes.

    That’s the difference between using sodium iodide detectors (a couple of thousand dollars) and high purity germanium detectors (tens of thousands, if not hundred thousand).

    Leave the ultra-low level assay to universities pursuing EPA or NRC grants.

  34. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-09 17:40

    Yes, more coal burning will occur around the globe. The Black Hills gets its air from all over.

  35. Adam 2017-05-09 17:47

    Powertech/Azarga has been perfectly clear, right from the start, about how the yellow cake they plan to produce will be sold and shipped out mostly to South America and China. They never claimed that the US would be an immediate customer for their product.

    Put America first on this one! Say no to this toxic waste project.

  36. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-09 17:57

    You want South America and China to burn more coal instead? Not only will that particulate matter make it to the Black Hills and the lakes, streams, and aquifers, we’ll have more carbon in the atmosphere…..which will also impact the Black Hills.

  37. Adam 2017-05-09 18:47

    Bob, sometimes you can be a pretty silly guy.

  38. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-09 19:17

    I’m all for clean water. More environmental monitoring near the mining, less crapola distributed to the planet from oil/gas/coal.

    I’m with you on America first. If we were building more nuclear plants in the U.S., then the uranium would more likely be consumed here. Worse yet, American jobs that could be building reactors for South America and China are going to Russia and China instead. But that’s probably not what you meant by America first ;^).

    Westinghouse showed that even an optimized large reactor based on well-known water-cooled technology will not work if you can’t build it on time and on budget. Success in reactor design moving forward will mean lower upfront cost, fewer parts to fail, and walk-away safety. The smaller ones will definitely need to load-follow unless they are used for process heat or desalination. They also need to innovate the advanced reactors that will consume our present wastes and reduce future wastes.

  39. Adam 2017-05-09 19:54

    So, did ya know there are extraordinary circumstances regarding these proposed Black Hills hazardous waste injection wells?

    Such as the proximity to the Black Hills Army Depot in Igloo, and the 7,650 current open boreholes that pop through many aquifers all around the Powertech/Azarga site.

    Did ya also know each waste disposal proposal is a little different? Some of them, like this one, are proposed in places where it is simply NOT environmentally responsible.

  40. leslie 2017-05-09 20:55

    preppers are also buying condos in Igloo ordinance depot.

  41. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-10 08:33

    You can probably test any injection well with a radiotracer or other chemical tracer to follow where any water would go. It’s called science….make a hypothesis and test it.

    If one cannot show that the tracer goes anywhere from the injection well, even with the capability of detecting ultra-low levels, and others repeat the experiment with null results, what would that say about its safety?

  42. Adam 2017-05-10 11:36

    Those who know what they’re talking about call it “pump testing,” Doc – it works differently than your comment, but you are close to correct. It’s just an area of science which you don’t seem to command the vocabulary.

    Keep on Googling. You’ll learn more than I am willing to teach you here.

  43. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-10 12:24

    So you would rather let other nations burn more coal and impact our water that way, or cut off a path to powering the electric cars we need to displace gas-powered vehicles (and the pipelines that supply them), even if the “pump testing” (i.e. the science) showed that the disposal wells were safe?

    How is that consistent with clean water when the end result is less clean water?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.