White Plume: Keep out! Radioactive Sacrifice Area
By Debra White Plume
Powertech USA Inc. is embarking on a path of destruction from which there is no return. The company plans to start in situ leach mining in South Dakota’s Custer and Fall River counties that will puncture through four aquifers on the Great Plains and endanger a fragile geologic system.
As a result of ISL mining planned at the Dewey-Burdock site – 12 miles northwest of Edgemont – we on the Plains must face the threat of groundwater contamination for generations, while the corporate leaders reside far away in their homelands of Canada and France.
This new corporation has no history of accountability in adhering to environmental laws or in the clean-up of a mined-out area. There are thousands of reports by mining corporations that document problems trying to contain uranium-laden water at mine sites, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Web site.
Will this new corporation – which will be mining uranium in an area with thousands of improperly abandoned boreholes and fractured aquifers – have the capacity to contain the radioactive water it plans to pump to the surface through miles and miles of pipe? Pipe which leaks, according to the NRC.
Powertech knows about the thousands of uncapped boreholes in their mine permit area, and about the horizontal and vertical faults and fractures between aquifers through which groundwater can spread thorium, radium, arsenic and other contaminants disturbed with ISL mining.
These metals can travel to contaminate clean drinking water which may eventually end up in the pipe that brings drinking water into our homes, or the garden hose that waters our family gardens. Arsenic and alpha emitters make people sick.
The history of earthquakes in the Black Hills makes ISL uranium mining even more dangerous.
Does Powertech have the finances to pay fines for leaks and spills that other corporations have had to pay or to cleanup? It is not clear if the company has the resources to pay for cleaning up its mess, or if water can ever be safely restored.
Powertech’s uranium mining applications to the NRC and the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources were deemed inadequate. But rather than denying the applications, both entities helped revise Powertech’s applications.
The fact that the corporation failed to complete a satisfactory application does not create confidence and makes one wonder about these governmental entities: Are they here to look out for the well-being of people and the environment, or for the mining corporations?
The opportunity to view the public records of Powertech’s 6,000 page application as limited to Internet availability is prejudicial. It assumes that everyone has a computer and Internet access and eliminates untold members of the general public.
Let me be clear, this practice impacts the most vulnerable: The poor and the isolated.
The Dewey-Burdock area is in 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty Territory and in a place sacred to the Lakota People: The Black Hills, the heart of everything that is. The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty was ratified by Congress and was never amended. Under international law it is our land.
Our ancestors fought the United States, and many people died, to protect the Black Hills and our homelands. There are hundreds of places in the proposed mining area that have been identified as archeological, historical and cultural sites.
Will this new corporation have the capacity to contain the radioactive water it plans to pump to the surface through miles and miles of pipe?
There are tipi rings, stone cairns, graves; there are eagle nests there which need protection. For a corporation to have more rights than human beings is a violation of our basic human rights.
To keep us away from a sacred place is to kill our people and way of life. What kind of government makes such laws that allow a corporation to turn this into a “National Sacrifice Area?”
The laws of the United States, the NRC regulations, and the individuals who sit behind those desks can honor treaty law, the life way of the Lakota, environmental laws, and demonstrate respect for Mother Earth by denying Powertech USA Inc.’s application to mine uranium.
After Powertech has mined for 20 years, used billions of gallons of water, fouled our aquifers and land, and completed processing its yellow cake imported from Wyoming, Powertech’s board of directors and shareholders will remove the pumps that keep radioactive water “contained,” cap the deep disposal wells storing billions of gallons of radioactive waste, dismantle its buildings for shipment to a nuclear waste dump, lay off the handful of local employees, close its Hot Springs Office, and enjoy their profits back in their home offices in Canada and France.
The NRC staff will file away the paperwork of the Dewey-Burdock Uranium Mine – our homelands. Will the file tab read “Radioactive, Keep Out?”
Debra White Plume is an Oglala Lakota author, artist, and activist from the beautiful Pine Ridge homelands.
The preceding story first appeared on Indian Country Today