Federal court denies tribe a review of uranium license

SIOUX FALLS (AP) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday denied the Oglala Sioux Tribe's request for a review of a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission decision to grant a license for a potential uranium mine in southwestern South Dakota despite the tribe not being individually consulted on the potential impact to cultural resources.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission complied with federal law when it granted Powertech, Inc., a subsidiary of enCore Energy in Texas, a license to mine uranium at a 10,000-acre site near Edgemont, South Dakota. The company plans to use a mining method that injects a water-based solution underground, dissolves the uranium and draws it to the surface for processing.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe has mounted a years-long effort to halt the project, arguing that the project would endanger cultural and environmental resources on land that historically belonged to the Great Sioux Nation.

The tribe did not participate in a 2013 survey for historical and cultural resources because it disapproved of the methods and timing. It later argued against the license before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.

Although the board found that the tribe was not adequately consulted, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission kept the license in place because the tribe had failed to show it suffered “irreparable harm” from the licensing process. Federal regulators tried several times to reach an agreement with the tribe to conduct a survey, but they could not agree to a method.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe did not immediately comment on the ruling.

The federal court in its order found that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had “satisfied its statutory obligations” during the license review process.

The decision clears the way for other permits for the project to potentially move forward. The Environmental Protection Agency has issued permits in 2020, but an appeal of that decision had been halted until the court ruled on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's license.

Powertech is also seeking South Dakota state permits. Those too have been put on hold while federal permits are challenged in court.

EnCore Energy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the court's ruling.

Uranium was mined in open pits and tunnels in the Edgemont area from the 1950s to the 1970s, a process that left behind unreclaimed mines, buried radioactive waste and health concerns.

The uranium previously mined at the site was used for American nuclear weapons. However, this time it would be used for nuclear power plants. Powertech says nuclear energy is environmentally friendly since it’s carbon-free.