The Hot Springs Star is burning bright with debate over the Powertech/Azarga uranium mining proposal. Local project manager Mark Hollenbeck tells his neighbors that in situ uranium mining is "inherently safe" and is "Nature's perfect solution to global air pollution problems."
I'm not sure what "inherently safe" means here. Certain methods of mining may be safer than others, but firing up machines, disrupting geological formations, and exposing radioactive material has basic, unavoidable risks.
Nor am I sure what "Nature's perfect solution" means. A perfect solution would mean a response with no downside. A "perfect" solution to air pollution would make all air pollution go away without creating any other pollution in the soil or water. Mining uranium pollutes the land and water. Mining, processing, and transporting uranium brings people and the Black Hills biosphere into closer contact with radioactive material. Producing energy from uranium, while notably clean and efficient compared to burning coal or wood, still produces nuclear waste and the chance of nasty industrial accidents that can condemn entire regions. If Nature offered any "perfect" solution, it would be to wipe out the one species doing singular and extensive damage to all the others (and I'm asking for a veto on that one!).
Hollenbeck's April 7 letter has sparked responses from neighbors who see his foreign bosses' mining scheme as less than perfect. Pringle's Gardner Gray counters Hollenbeck's industrial propaganda with this letter to the editor, sent to my inbox yesterday:
A recent Guest Editorial in the Hot Springs Star from Powertech spokesperson Mark Hollenbeck brings to mind the words from Robert B. Thomas of the original Farmers Almanac who tells us that "it is by our works and not our words that we would be judged". This is of course good advice for all of us but particularly in this case it might apply to Mr. Hollenbeck and Powertech.
Our only assurance that this mining is going to be safe is their word. They can certainly have their own opinions about this mining issue but they cannot have their own facts. Scientists from the USGS, scientists from the School of Mines, including the highly respected Professor Rahm and other independent scientists, have repeatedly pointed out the dangers in assuming that this mining is safe from a water or environmental standpoint. Relying on scientists who are on the Powertech payroll to paint as rosy a picture as possible is unwise and counterproductive as well as confusing.
We are being told that uranium is safe thereby trying to convince us that ISL uranium mining is safe. Nothing is further from the truth. The USGS clearly states that there is no ISL operation in this country that has ever remediated the water or the land back to pre-mining condition or better. In other words, it cannot be done. Powertech knows this, as does the NRC and the EPA and the DENR.
Because of this scientific fact, Powertech wrote SB158 in 2011, invited incumbent representatives Verchio and Russell to misrepresent the bill to the legislature as a removal of duplication, but in truth stripped the DENR of its oversight and removed most of the water laws of the state that protected the water quality in the first place.
May we not make a clear judgement on the poor quality of the works of Powertech by just this one action? Who, in their right mind, would decide to weaken the public's water protection laws for private gain? What kind of person would risk billions of gallons of public water for any kind of monetary gain? Would you endanger public water supplies for $500,000 or one million or two? I certainly hope not.
This water does not belong to Powertech. It belongs to the public. The only requirement now for Powertech to remediate the water and the land to pre-mining or better condition is to get the contamination to as low as reasonably achievable, or ALARA which is the NRC minimum. What kind of protection is this? What kind of requirement is this? Powertech has agreed to a 25-million-dollar bond to cover remediation expenses where the NRC itself has assured us that remediation will take upwards of possibly 150 million if memory serves. If Powertech walks away from the cleanup based on the assumption that it is unreasonable to spend the money it will take to do so, who will pay the difference between 25 million and possibly 150? Well sir, we will, the very few who want this mining and the very many who do not.
Dr. Cook is correct. Since there is no guarantee that the water and land will be successfully remediated, ( in fact expert data to indicate that indeed it is impossible to do so,) it is only reasonable that Powertech stop this project before it goes any further. Powertech has not mined a single ounce of uranium since its inception and has very little experience to do so. It is not Powertech's fault that they won't clean the toxic waste up. The glaring fact is that they cannot. No one can. We need to measure this company by it's works, not it's words.
Pringle, South Dakota
Civilization requires energy. However, there are better, safer, cleaner ways to get energy that don't require putting the earth, water, and people of the Black Hills at greater risk.