The Naughton coal-fired power plant, pictured Jan. 19, 2022, will be retired in 2028 when TerraPower commences operations for its proposed Natrium nuclear reactor power plant at the same location. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

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. 

Opinion

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.

Wyoming residents looking for truth and facts for when our uranium industry gears up to meet future demand should not be misled. 

Travis deti

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. 

Travis Deti

Travis Deti is executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association (WMA). A native of Laramie, Deti holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Wyoming. Prior to joining WMA in 2011,...

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  1. The author of this article is the executive director of Wyoming Mining Association question- are there biases in this article his degree is in political science. It would be beneficial to hear from someone with a degree in nuclear science who has reviewed these policies, some are from decades ago, then tell the general population if the dated policies are sufficient. Maybe a panel of nuclear science experts.

  2. Thank you Mr. Deti for your informative letter. It is refreshing to hear the truth about a resource that is available in our great state.

  3. OK ,Travis. Now give us 5oo of your best words on radioactive fissile nuclear waste disposal. I’ll wait.

    Meanwhile, the half life of Plutonium 239 , produced by transmutating Uranium 238 extracted from places like Wyoming and is the most toxic and dangerous substance known to man , is only 24,000 years

  4. It would not hurt a thing to have all regulations audited for todays environment. If the industry is so confident than they should welcome the audit. Regulations mean nothing if not applied on the ground. Over site is critical to compliance. You could have all the best policies and regulations in the world for anything; but if it is not enforced it means nothing.

  5. Before my father passed away at 94 years old, he stated that going to nuclear power plants in the Untied States was the solution to the pollution issues. Perhaps he is right!

  6. As I’ve watched all of these non fossil fuel energy developments come about in Wyoming, I’ve become convinced of a couple things. Wind and solar farms create a limited numbers of jobs yet cause massive displacement of wildlife and habitat destruction. After all of this, they contribute relatively little to America’s energy needs. If the calculations I’ve read are correct, all the power they create could instead be produced by just 2 nuclear power plants, with a foot print of little more than a few football fields. If we are ever to achieve clean energy goals in America, it has to be through nuclear energy. Wind and solar just don’t have the capacity to do it and are little more than window dressing.

    1. All of your negative criticisms of non-carbon energy are grossly incorrect.
      1. Since the financial crisis of 2008, the state of Colorado has added 37,000 green energy jobs in both solar and wind while Wyoming was whining about losing a few hundred coal mining jobs directly and a few hundred more secondary coal service jobs…
      2. Nearly HALF of Texas’ electricity now comes from wind. Texas has its own power grid and is in charge of its own energy production and distribution. The Big Oil state went with windpower in a big way. America can and should do the same. There’s a reason why they call it Alternative energy.
      3. Go visit the giant collective farms on the prairies of Alberta and Sakatchewan and you’ll see vast numbers of wind turbines ( one place I visited had about 600 ) with rolling wheat fields and hundreds of cattle grazing at their feet, and plenty of wildlife. You can see that in Wyoming, too. Habitat loss and wildlife depredation are more factless scaremongering rhetoric than actuality …not much of a concern . Have you not seen Prognhorn grazing in between the wells and tank batteries of existing Wyoming oil fields ? Turbines are not injurious unless you are one of the few bats or a raptors who aren’t bladewise. Just keep in mind that wind turbines are w-a-a-a-y down the list of causes of bird mortalities. Top of the list ? Your family cat and its feral cousins.
      4. Your presumptive calculations about how many nuke plants it takes to offset the energy from wind and solar are off by several orders of magnitude. Renewable energy now is on a 1:1 par with electricity produced from coal fired plants in America, and produced 65 percent of the output of natural gas fired plants. Renewable are increasing their share; coal and gas decreasing theirs. Fuel oil / diesel powered plants are a tiny fraction of renewables and are also decreasing.
      5. Renewables currently out-produce the combined output of all the American nuke plants combined… 826 billion KWh vs. 778 B-KWh , as of February 2022. The Chokecherry-Sierra Madre wind farm being built out in southern Wyoming presently will produce 6 gigawatts of power from 1,000 turbines , give or take. One wind farm. The highest producing American nuke plant, Palos Verde near Phoenix AZ , produces 3.9 gigawatts. That’s 65 percent by comparison. Ooops…

      Anything else ?