CONTACT: Debra White Plume, Executive Director, Owe Aku firstname.lastname@example.org
Kent Lebsock, Owe Aku International Human Rights Project: email@example.com
Seven Petitioners File for Hearing on Uranium Mine Expansion
First Request for Nuclear Regulatory Commission Hearing in 17 Years
“The entire issue is water, which is life itself, and our struggle is to protect it.” Thomas Cook
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On November 12, 2007, seven Petitioners from parts of the poorest region in the United States asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to participate in decisions relative to uranium mining and its harmful effects in northwestern Nebraska and the Lakota (Sioux) Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Southwest South Dakota . According to NRC sources, this is the first request to intervene in an NRC proceeding relating to the expansion of an existing uranium mining operation in approximately 17 years. The petitioners are Thomas Cook, Chadron Native American Center, Slim Buttes Agricultural Development Corp., High Plains Community Development Corp., Western Nebraska Resources Council, Debra White Plume, and an Oglala Lakota nonprofit organization called Owe Aku.
Canadian-owned Crow Buttes Resources, Inc. (CBR) is asking the NRC for a permit to expand uranium mining in and around Petitioners’ towns, farms, and Indian territories. Petitioners assert that CBR’s process currently consumes and contaminates 4.7 billion gallons of water per year from the High Plains Aquifer which is also the water source to communities in eight western states. The petition (see http://www.bringbacktheway.com/ for text) challenges CBR’s request for an additional 2.4 billion gallons a year to expand its operations. CBR's application is made while drought is depleting the aquifers at 160% of recharge.
In addition to the use of additional valuable water resources, CBR has admitted to:
§ a spill of approximately 300,000 gallons of radioactive liquid waste at its mine in Crawford , Nebraska ;
§ failure to clean up one-third of the spills equaling approximately 100,000 gallons of radioactive liquid waste;
§ admission that a broken coupling led to a one gallon per minute leak for several years into the Brule aquifer. It is believed that the leak resulted in toxic contamination of at least 525,000 gallons of water per year; and
§ admission of a leak that contaminated 25,000 sq. ft. of the Brule aquifer.
From existing operations, CBR has had no less than 23 reported leaks of radioactive material. Petitioners assert that this contradicts CBR’s statements that they have operated without any environmental impact and indicates that CBR should not be allowed to expand its existing operations. As one member of the Western Nebraska Resources Counsel stated, “In our book, you clean up your first mess before you are allowed the opportunity to create a new mess.”
Petitioners are asking the NRC for a chance to submit evidence that a slow-moving, underground radioactive plume of contaminated water is moving through several inter-connected aquifers. It is believed that CBRs admitted contamination of the aquifer “plumes” through the Arikaree, Brule and High Plains aquifers. CBR’s expansion application to the NRC states that the toxins that have leaked into the aquifers probably enter the human body through water as well as food sources exposed to the contamination. These toxins include Radon-222, Thorium, Uranium and inorganic Arsenic. As part of the application process, Petitioners seek an evaluation of CBR’s proposed expansion relative to the health and environment of people and wildlife relying on the aquifers. The Arikaree aquifer lies directly under the Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Petitioners believe there is a link between 98 wells that were closed on the Western side of the Reservation because of radioactive contamination and unusual incidences of cancer, kidney disease, birth defects, miscarriages and infant brain seizures.
Indigenous Petitioners from Native American communities also assert that the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples applies. Article 32 acknowledges that Indigenous peoples have a right to “free, prior and informed consent” with respect to development, utilization or exploitation of mineral resources. It further provides that “[s]tates shall provide effective mechanisms for just and fair redress for any such activities, and appropriate measures shall be taken to mitigate adverse environmental … impact.” To date, no opportunity has been provided for members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe or Native communities to analyze CBR’s License Amendment or its affect on Indigenous lands and resources. Petitioners stress that it would be entirely consistent with international human rights standards if the NRC affirms the Indigenous peoples’ right to intervene in the permit process for CBR’s application.
It is currently unknown when to expect a decision from the NRC.
Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way)
International Justice & Human Rights Project