Nebraska Mining Coverage Misrepresented by Media

Media coverage of Crow Butte Resources' uranium mining near Crawford, Nebraska, has been remarkably incomplete. In deference to the multimillion-dollar operation, coverage has focused on all the positives generated for the state, company, workers, contractors and regional economy. However, scant attention is paid to the issues surrounding CBR's license renewal application before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

A full-spread Rapid City Journal article December 23 shows the slant of coverage regarding the real and valid concerns. The reporter missed a fundamental question of CBR, “What's the status of your license?” That question would lead to further questions of what the issues are surrounding the case.

Instead, the article only quotes Dave Carlson, the licensed geologist who certified CBR's original and inaccurate geological analysis, and who has legal responsibility for its contents. He said “The truth is a lot of the opposition comes from ignorance. People talk about them ruining the aquifer. We can say with about 99.9 percent certainty that they're incorrect.”

Carlson's outright dismissal of oppositional views and scientific evidence is in denial of the facts, and disregards the complexity of the issues involved in the case. 

There's no mention, acknowledgment, or admission in the Rapid City Journal article that CBR's license renewal has been tied up at the licensing board of the NRC for five years; nor what the contentions are, beyond “fears,” as said in the article. In typical corporate posturing, CBR officials are careful to make no public reference of the licensing proceedings.

The fact is the ASLBP judges have granted standing and admitted contentions to the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Nation, Tiospayes, organizations, and individuals in opposition to CBR's license renewal.

Whether or not the contentions are based upon ignorance is a matter for the judges to determine, and not the opinion of Mr. Carlson.

The NRC case is of paramount importance and cannot be ignored. Petitioners filed legal contentions before the ASLBP in 2007, and by mid-2008 standing to participate was granted to: Western Nebraska Resources Council, Owe Aku advocacy organization and Debra White Plume on Pine Ridge, Joe American Horse and Tom/Loretta Cook families, and subsequently, the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Black Hills Sioux Nation council. This is a significant representative body of opposition that should not be overlooked in public discourse or fair media coverage. 

After five years of hearings, briefs, and appeals, the ten contentions originally granted were reformulated down to a legally sustainable three. Those contentions regarding environmental contamination are ongoing and could multiply once the NRC publishes its environmental and technical reports on Crow Butte's license renewal application.

According to their own documents, CBR's excursion and spills history has resulted in undisputed release of “lixiviant” (hydrogen peroxide and baking soda) to underground sources of drinking water. One spill reported in the Chadron Record July 8, 1997, was from a crack in a PVC pipe coupling, releasing a gallon per minute of lixiviant into the overlying aquifer for two years.

One gallon per minute is approximately 1.6 million gallons of lixiviant somehow circulating past CBR's monitoring wells. The overlaying aquifer affected feeds the White River and the downhill flow carried the lixiviant and its effects of heavy metal mobilization, directly to Pine Ridge 30 miles away. Its effects are seen in the White River alluvium (the water under the river) today. 

A decade after the release was discovered, a 30-foot well alongside the White River in Slim Buttes community tested for uranium at 45.9 UgL (the measure for uranium), while the maximum contaminate level is 15 UgL, as set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

This was only one of nearly three dozen spills (one, of 300,000 gallons of production sludge) and “excursions” of mining fluids escaping well-fields, according to court documents. The consolidated petitioners believe there's a causal connection between the mining operations and our contaminated drinking water and challenge the company's assessment of pathways of contamination.

Contention A is that CBR's application does not accurately describe the environment affected by its mining operations or the extent of its impact on the environment as a result of its use and potential contamination of water resources.

Contention B is that CBR's operations use and contaminate water resources, resulting in harm to public health and safety through mixing of contaminated groundwater in surrounding aquifers and drainage of contaminated water into the White River.

Contention C concerns the requirements for reasonable consultation with Tribal leaders regarding traditional cultural properties (prehistoric Indian camps and artifacts) located in the area, which has not occurred as required under the National Environmental Protection Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. This is the stage of proceedings now unfolding.

Media coverage generally, and specically, the Rapid City Journal's December 23 article on Crow Butte is incomplete, and devoid of an informed or balanced journalistic approach. On behalf of the petitioners and general public, I hope my comments will inform the reader of opposing views, and clarify the issues pertinent to uranium mining in the Nebraska Panhandle.

Tom Kanatakeniate Cook is a Wolf clan Mohawk from Akwesasne married to Loretta Afraid Of Bear, Pine Ridge, for 38 years. He's been field coordinator for Running Strong for American Indian Youth for 20 years and his crews make gardens on Pine Ridge (416 in 2012).