Fall River Voters To Decide On Banning Uranium Mining


     When Fall River County voters go to the polls in November, one of the items facing them will be essentially a ban on uranium mining in the county.

    The County Commissioners placed the measure on the ballot after receiving petitions with 448 valid signatures on a measure declaring uranium mining a public nuisance and barring the practice in the county. 260 signatures were required to make the ballot.

      The 4-1 vote by the commissioners came at a packed special session last week. Video of the meeting and the often intense, but polite, testimony can be viewed on Fall River County’s Facebook page.

      The initiative is aimed at Powertech, which for the last decade has been trying to get federal and state permits for an in-situ uranium mine north of Edgemont.

     The company, now part of enCore Energy of Texas, has leases on about 10,000 acres for its Dewey-Burdock project and offered multiple objections to the petition at the commissioners’ meeting. 

      Opponents cited a number of concerns, but most said their biggest was the mine’s impact on water. In-situ mining injects a solution similar to bicarbonate of soda into an aquifer to release uranium molecules into the water for pumping to the surface and removal.

      The foes have 2 water concerns: the volume of water needed for mining – although much of it is recycled – and the possibility of pollution to drinking water. The aquifer proposed for use is not potable, but opponents are worried the mining process could lead to infiltration of other aquifers that are.

    Last week, a federal appeals court denied the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s request for a review of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to grant a license for the Dewey Burdock project.

     In addition to the NRC license, the project was issued permits by the EPA in 2020 with an appeal paused until the court ruled on the NRC decision. Powertech is also seeking South Dakota state permits which have also been on hold while federal permits are challenged in court.