EPA withdraws uranium mining clean up rule

January 5, 2017

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) withdrew a proposed rule that would require mining companies to restore ground water at in situ uranium mines to be restored to conditions similar to those that existed before mining began.

The proposed rule targeted in situ mining of uranium in Wyoming but faced criticism from republicans in Congress, The Associated Press reported. 
The uranium occurs in the rock naturally but the in situ process contaminates ground water with uranium in concentrations much higher than natural levels. Mining companies take several measures to prevent uranium-tainted water from seeping out of the immediate mining area and no in situ uranium mine has contaminated a source of drinking water, the industry and its allies assert.

Wyoming's Republican U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi praised the EPA decision to reconsider, saying the rule was unnecessarily burdensome for the uranium industry. Wyoming has five active in situ uranium mines and is the top uranium-producing state.

"In situ uranium recovery has been used in the United States for decades, providing valuable jobs to Wyoming and clean energy to the nation," Enzi said in a release. "I rarely say this about the EPA, but the agency made the right decision."

Along with setting new cleanup standards, the rule would have required companies to monitor their former in situ mines for potentially decades. The rule, which had been set for implementation, now will be opened up for a six-month public comment period.

Environmentalists and others say uranium mining companies have yet to show they can fully clean up ground water at a former in situ mine. Clean ground water shouldn't be taken for granted, they say, especially in the arid and increasingly populated West.

The EPA rule is scheduled for further consideration in President-elect Donald Trump's administration.

The basin in northeast Wyoming has three in situ uranium mines and several associated facilities. Other in situ uranium mines are active in Nebraska and Texas.

In situ uranium mining surged on record prices that preceded the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Prices lately have sunk to decade lows, prompting layoffs.



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