Nebraska uranium mine granted license extension

Farm Forum

CRAWFORD, Neb. (AP) — Federal regulators have granted a 10-year license extension for a uranium mine in the northern Panhandle of Nebraska that has long been opposed by environmental groups.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced on Nov. 6 that it had renewed the license for the Crow Butte Resources mine southeast of Crawford through Nov. 5, 2024, Chadron radio station KQSK said.

Crow Butte’s parent company, Casper, Wyoming-based Cameco Resources, filed for the renewal in 2007. The NRC allowed the operation to continue because of a huge backlog of license filings.

On Nov. 7 Cameco spokesman Ken Vaughn said the company was pleased to finally have its license issue resolved and looked forward to expanding its mining into what he called the Marsland site, which is 7 miles south of its current site. The Crow Butte mine reserves are dwindling, but new production depends on the market.

“Right now the prices remain depressed since Fukushima,” he said, referring to the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. The Crow Butte plant produced 700,000 pounds of uranium last year, he said.

The mining process at Crow Butte injects a chemical solution similar to bicarbonate of soda into the aquifer to release molecules of uranium, which are pumped to the surface with the water and removed. Most of the water is recycled, and the uranium is dried into a form called yellowcake that is processed elsewhere.

Environmental groups opposing the mining and production have said the water carrying dissolved uranium has contaminated aquifers, including the Arikaree aquifer underneath the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, across the Nebraska state line in South Dakota. Bruce McIntosh of the Western Nebraska Resources Council said on Nov. 7 that he couldn’t immediately comment. A spokeswoman for the Oglala Sioux-based group Owe Atu couldn’t be reached.

The NRC said in announcing the extension that “there would be no significant environmental impact from continuing operation for another 10 years.”