Also: Denver District Court Rules Against Powertech; Top Exec Resigns
By Bobby Magill. Fort Collins Coloradoan. May 11. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has suspended its safety review of a proposed Powertech Uranium Corp. uranium mine in South Dakota because the agency wasn't satisfied with Powertech's explanation for how it will keep the mine from harming public health and safety.
Powertech USA President Richard Clement said in April that the company temporarily is pulling its staff away from the proposed Centennial Project uranium mine northeast of Fort Collins to work on the federal permitting process for its proposed Dewey-Burdock mine in South Dakota's Black Hills.
In a May 6 letter, the NRC told Powertech it will be suspending the permitting process because Powertech was unable to answer public health and safety questions about the Dewey-Burdock mine.
The letter said Powertech couldn't adequately explain how it would contain uranium production fluids at the mine site and keep surface water free of contamination.
"We believe that proceeding with the review at this time is not the most effective use of scarce resources," because Powertech's responses to the NRC's requests for additional information about public health and safety provisions were inadequate.
The timeline for the Dewey-Burdock safety review and federal licensing has been extended indefinitely depending on how Powertech answers the NRC's questions and the availability of NRC staff, NRC spokesman David McIntyre said.
Clement said Tuesday Powertech plans to respond at the end of June. Once employees complete their responses to the NRC's questions, they once again will focus on the Centennial Project, he said, adding that he expects that to occur by the end of the year.
The suspension came three days before Powertech announced Monday that company Chairman and Chief Operating Officer Wallace Mays had resigned as an officer in the company. Powertech had no further comment on his resignation, saying only that Mays will remain at Powertech as a director.
Meanwhile, Powertech's effort to challenge new state environmental regulations mandating it fully reclaim the groundwater at the Centennial site has suffered two major setbacks in court.
Denver District Court in orders filed April 26 and March 31 dismissed two of Powertech's four claims against the state in a lawsuit filed in November.
The lawsuit was filed as a way to make a statement against the way mining regulators went about creating the new strict groundwater reclamation rules for in situ leach uranium mines, including the Centennial Project.
"This was an industry issue," Clement said Tuesday. "Powertech is the only company that decided to stand up and make a point about the issues involved in the rulemaking."
He said the manner in which the new regulations were written "caused us to put the state on notice that they need to have a more careful manner in which they represent these things."
In the lawsuit, filed in November against the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board and Colorado Department of Natural Resources Director Mike King, Powertech alleged the new rules, which Clement previously called "fatal" to uranium mining in Colorado, are unreasonable and arbitrary.
The company claimed the regulations violate the state Constitution because some lawmakers, including Reps. Randy Fischer and John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, wrote letters to the MLRB suggesting ways the agency should implement the law they supported requiring the state to write rules regulating groundwater contamination at the Centennial site.
The court dismissed that claim because Powertech did not name the lawmakers in the suit.
In March, the court released King as a defendant in the case because he was not personally responsible for taking final action on implementing the new rules. Only the MLRB has the power to implement the regulations.
The remaining two claims, that the rules are unreasonable and that the rules failed to comply with state law, remain in court.
"If it's dismissed, it's dismissed," Clement said. "There's nothing we can do about that. It will have no effect in Centennial."