NRC revises ISL review process

9 June 2009

The US NRC said that it is expecting to receive as many as 17 license applications for in situ leach uranium recovery milling facilities, including new facilities, expansions and restarts in the western US states of Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and New Mexico through 2010.

The agency made the comment as it launched a final generic environmental impact statement for these operations. The GEIS categorizes as “small,” “moderate” or “large” various impacts of ISR operations on land use, transportation, surface water and groundwater, geology and soils, threatened and endangered species, historical and cultural resources, public health and safety, ecology and air quality. It also examines the socioeconomic impacts and waste management issues of ISR facilities. Most of the impacts are a range classified as small to moderate. Expected impacts that might be large all depended on site specifics include: land use impact during construction, groundwater impact during operation, impact on endangered species during construction, operation and decommissioning, impact on historical resources during construction

For new recovery operations, the NRC has also decided to issue its most thorough reviews, environmental impact statements, instead of environmental assessments, to increase public participation.

“This new approach responds to public concerns that our review of generic impacts common to all uranium recovery actions would overlook unique characteristics of each individual site,” NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko said.

The NRC will continue to prepare Environmental Assessments for applications to expand or renew the licenses of existing uranium recovery operations. An Environmental Assessment typically is not issued for public comment; however, the agency may issue an assessment for comment if a particular application has high public interest. A “finding of no significant impact” ends the environmental review; however, if the assessment does identify significant impacts, the staff would then begin work on a supplemental environmental impact statement for the site.

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