Wyoming is America’s leader in the production of uranium. While it’s true that production has dramatically slowed in recent years, current global events and continuing climate change concerns among many groups have brought this valuable natural resource back to the forefront. There is great opportunity on the horizon.
Wyoming’s uranium community is very concerned with unfounded accusations made in a recent opinion piece posted by WyoFile on June 30, with a revised and edited version posted July 1. The updated version removed potentially libelous statements regarding a specific uranium recovery company, but remains riddled with errors and misinformation. As a result, the Wyoming Mining Association and our state’s uranium producers are compelled to respond; the people of Wyoming deserve to know the facts.
Today, all of Wyoming’s uranium recovery is performed using the in-situ process. In-situ uranium recovery is heavily and stringently overseen by state and federal regulations. The primary components of the regulatory framework include the State of Wyoming Environmental Quality Act (Title 35, Chapter 11, Article 4 and specifically sections 426 through 436; WDEQ Land Quality Division Chapter 11, In Situ Mining); the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (which allows for the State of Wyoming Agreement State Program for Uranium Recovery); the Safe Drinking Water Act (EPA’s regulations for Underground Injection Control and Aquifer Exemptions); the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); and Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.
Other permits required for in-situ uranium recovery include discharge permits under the Wyoming Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Program, permits under the Clean Air Act, permits from the Wyoming Office of the State Engineer and other local permits. In short, there is thorough regulatory oversight over uranium recovery facilities. This includes substantial federal oversight even in the case of state programs. In key areas such as radioactive material licensing and underground injection control, state programs must meet federal requirements and are subject to continuing federal oversight. Given all this, there is simply no need for a “policy upgrade” as emphasized in the WyoFile opinion piece.
The author’s description of the in-situ uranium recovery process provided in the piece is poor at best and demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of how the recovery process works. The injection and recovery wells are drilled in patterns. The uranium is initially loaded (not stripped) onto ion exchange resin in tanks called columns. In-situ uranium recovery is a safe, environmentally sound process that has been used by Wyoming operators for decades, going back to 1964. Descriptions of the process with diagrams are readily available online at many sources and in the many permit documents held by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ).
Spill reports and inspection reports are readily available with the WDEQ and are easily accessed. Spill reporting is required as are site-maintained records of spills that are inspected as part of license related inspections. A simple online check of applicable regulations or a brief telephone call to a member of the WDEQ’s Uranium Recovery Program would have revealed that this suggested “policy improvement” is redundant and unneeded.
The author called for “sufficient bonding, paid up front by the operators, for reclamation and restoration of the mining site as well as ground and surface waters to their pre-mining condition. Bonds must be evaluated periodically to verify adequacy.” Bonds are already required by Wyoming law and regulations (Title 35, Chapter 11, Sections 417 through 423, and Land Quality Division Chapter 6, Financial Assurance Requirements for Uranium Recovery). In addition to sufficient bonding, periodic annual review and significant contingencies are required as well. Again, a simple online check of the applicable state regulations or brief call to a member of the State of Wyoming’s Uranium Recovery Program would have revealed that the suggested “policy improvement” regarding surety is redundant and has been part of Wyoming’s environmental law for decades.
Finally, the author shares her concerns regarding baseline and periodic testing and monitoring of water quality. Exhaustive baseline and operational monitoring is already performed in compliance with state and federal requirements.
In seeking to paint her own picture of the Wyoming uranium industry, the author misleads her readers. The assertions and insinuations throughout the piece are not only unfair to the hundreds of dedicated professionals who work in the industry, but also the folks at our state and federal agencies that work hard to regulate it. Wyoming residents looking for truth and facts for when our uranium industry gears up to meet future demand should not be misled. We live in the greatest country in the world and all enjoy the right to express our opinions freely. But while we are all entitled to our opinions, we are not entitled to the creation of our own facts to justify them.