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Nuclear Regulatory Commission identifies deficiencies in Dewey-Burdock license application


June 14, 2009 - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has identified five material deficiencies in Powertech's application for a license to conduct in-situ leach uranium mining at its Dewey-Burdock project near Edgemont, South Dakota. 


Powertech submitted the license application on February 25, 2009, and NRC staff conducted an acceptance review that ended with a May 26 phone conference with Powertech informing the company of the problems.


According to an NRC notice, the material deficiencies in Powertech's application relate to hydrogeology/site characterization, waste disposal, well field locations and layout, protection of water resources, and operations information.


In a May 28 letter to the NRC, Powertech Vice-President Richard Blubaugh stated that "While Powertech may not fully agree with NRC Staff's conclusions regarding the
nature of the identified issues, we would like to schedule a meeting with NRC Staff as soon
as possible after June 9, 2009." 


(According to NRC document NUREG-1569, "The applicant’s....failure to supply information requested by the staff to complete the review (10 CFR 2.108) is also grounds for denial of the application.")


NRC staff and Powertech attorneys and officials including Chairman Wallace Mays met on June 11 to discuss the problems with the application.  Interested members of the public participated in the meeting via teleconference.


According to a participant and related news coverage, the meeting concluded with NRC staff declaring that the application was incomplete, and that if Powertech did not withdraw the application the NRC would send a rejection letter.  Powertech is expected to respond in a week or two.


The problems with the application are numerous, and will likely take some time to correct.  According to a participant who monitored the meeting, the deficiencies include:

- Inadequate characterization of the hydrology and geology of the site, and lack of information to support conclusions.


- Inadequate descriptions of where ISL mining would actually occur.  Apparently, Powertech has not conducted enough exploratory drilling to identify all of the specific ore bodies it intends to mine.


- Insufficient detail regarding waste disposal methods.  (For a letter from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality rejecting an overture from Powertech to pump wastewater across the state line for disposal in a deep injection well, go here.)


- Uncertainty regarding ISL mining in unconfined aquifers.


- Questions concerning aquifers that may serve as sources of drinking water.

The meeting participant said Powertech cited the high cost of exploration drilling and testing as a reason why additional information was not provided to the NRC.


Correcting the application's deficiencies will delay permitting of the project.  Powertech has made permitting of Dewey-Burdock its number one priority after last year's passage of House Bill 08-1161 by the Colorado legislature and subsequent rulemaking delayed the submittal of permit applications for the Centennial project in northern Colorado.  In addition, Powertech has so far been unable to obtain approvals for a final aquifer pump test needed to collect data for its Colorado and EPA applications.


Presumably, Powertech has been counting on progress with its Dewey-Burdock permit applications to convince investors to provide more venture capital.  Since the company has yet to file its March 31 fiscal year-end financial statements with Canadian securities regulators, its cash position is unclear.  The NRC's non-acceptance of Powertech's application for Dewey Burdock will undoubtedly be seen as bad news by investors.