Splitting Hairs And Atoms With RB: NRC Finds Foreign Ownership Not An Issue

NRC Finds Foreign Ownership Not an Issue

 - By Randy Brich -

On May 18, 2009, four US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Commissioners, including the new Chairman appointed recently by President Obama, ruled against the Consolidated Petitioners (i.e., an amalgamation of Native Americans and environmental groups) on a variety of issues regarding the renewal of the Source Material License for Crow Butte Resources, Inc. in situ uranium recovery operation near Crawford, Nebraska.  Two of the major issues potentially could affect proposed uranium recovery operations elsewhere in the U.S. Those issues are the foreign ownership of Crow Butte Resources by Cameco, a foreign corporation, and allegations regarding non-radiological health effects from arsenic in groundwater. 

In making their ruling the four commissioners (Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko, Peter B. Lyons, Dale E. Klein, and Kristine L. Svinicki) found that foreign ownership of the Crow Butte Resources in situ uranium recovery facility did not violate U.S. law.  Additionally, the Commissioners established that the petitioners failed to prove a number of issues regarding alleged arsenic contamination.  Specifically, no evidence or expert testimony was provided that indicated that offsite contamination by arsenic has occurred, or that high levels of arsenic were being consumed sufficient to cause the alleged health effects.  In summary, the Commissioners ruled that the petitioner’s statements regarding arsenic were speculative, stating,

“Petitioners appear to seek to litigate the adverse health effects of exposure to arsenic, as if it had already been shown that 1) the applicant’s operation has released, and will continue to release, arsenic into the groundwater, and 2) arsenic released from Crow Butte’s operation has already reached as far as the Pine Ridge Reservation, and 3) people living in these areas have been exposed to arsenic released from Crow Butte’s operation sufficient to develop the adverse health effects about which Consolidated Petitioners are concerned. But Consolidated Petitioners do not provide any alleged facts or expert opinion on these matters sufficient to demonstrate a genuine dispute.  Because the Consolidated Petitioners’ fundamental premise – that Crow Butte’s licensed activities have exposed petitioners and others to arsenic – is unsupported, our consideration of the contention must end there.

Even assuming that the Consolidated Petitioners had demonstrated a dispute as to whether arsenic would be released from the site as a result of ISL uranium recovery operations during the period of the renewed license, there are gaps in Consolidated Petitioners’ reasoning.  First, Consolidated Petitioners assert that the findings of the study explain the asserted prevalence of diabetes at Chadron, Nebraska and the Pine Ridge reservation, but provide no facts or expert opinion to buttress the argument. For example, they do not argue that persons in Chadron, or on the reservation, are exposed to inorganic arsenic in quantities comparable to those of the Arsenic Study’s subjects. And they do not exclude other factors that may cause diabetes. In addition, Consolidated Petitioners offer the unsubstantiated arguments of counsel regarding the increased incidence of pancreatic cancer in Chadron.  Without more, therefore, Consolidated Petitioners’ arguments are speculative, and do not form the basis for a litigable contention.”

click for full sizeThe Crow Butte Resources environmentally-friendly in situ recovery project has operated since 1991 producing between 600,000 – 700,000 pounds of uranium oxide (yellowcake) annually for the past several years.  Crow Butte has a separate action pending before the NRC involving the expansion of the facility to include the North Trend area. 

At Crow Butte the final product, yellowcake, is packaged in 55 gallon drums and shipped offsite for further processing into fuel for nuclear reactors.  A single drum of yellowcake enriched to reactor grade levels contains the energy equivalent of about forty-six 100-ton train cars of coal.  A mere 600 or so drums of yellowcake is enough to power a 1000 MW nuclear reactor for an entire year, 24/7.  In comparison, it would take over 35,000 of these same 100-ton train cars to power a similar sized coal plant continuously for one year.  Not only is that a lot of coal, it is a lot of carbon dioxide and other pollutants released to the atmosphere.

click for full sizeNuclear reactors emit no greenhouse gases or other Clean Air Act regulated pollutants and 104 of these incredible inventions currently produce 20% of the U.S. electricity.  Recently, the NRC has received applications for dozens of new reactors and as of this writing, 81 of these amazing machines were operating at 100% capacity -- virtually unheard of in other power generation sources where coal fired steam plants operate between 50-60% and wind at about 25% capacity. 

In reviewing the Crow Butte Resources ruling, each time the petitioners lose an argument before the NRC Commissioners there is one less allegation for their sympathizers to voice regarding ISL operations.  This becomes important not only for Crow Butte’s license renewal and proposed expansion but also for the other several soon-to-be in-situ uranium recovery facilities elsewhere in the Northern Great Plains. 

Finally, the NRC is on schedule to deliver its Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement for In Situ Leach Uranium Recovery Operations sometime next month.  The Final GEIS will put to rest once and for all arguments based on fear, that when exposed to fact melt away like new snow on a sunny spring day on the Northern Great Plains.


About Randy Brich
Randy graduated from South Dakota State University in 1978 with a M.S. in Biology.  After developing the State of South Dakota’s environmental radiological monitoring program, he became a Health Randy BrichPhysicist with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, eventually transferring to the Department of Energy where he specialized in environmental monitoring, worker protection, waste cleanup and systems biology.  Later in his career he published a multi-sport adventure guide book and became a regular contributor to The Entertainer Newspaper’s Great Outdoor section. 

Since then he has retired from the federal government and, after taking time out to build an energy efficient house near the Missouri River, has formed Diamond B Communications LLC.  Diamond B Communications LLC uses a multimedia approach to explain complex energy resource issues to technical and non-technical audiences.  He also guides for Dakota Bike Tours, the Relaxed Adventure Company, offering tours of the Badlands National Park, the Black Hills and Devils Tower National Monument.

If you have questions, comments, or know of a book that you think Randy should review Email Randy Brich>> randy@nuclearstreet.com


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