Energy policy — nuclear: Environment Colorado obtains email correspondence between Powertech and the EPA over possible permitted pollution in the Fox Hills aquifer

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency documents show the EPA has been working closely with uranium mine developer Powertech USA for nearly two years on a permit application that would allow the company to contaminate an aquifer beneath its proposed Centennial Project in Weld County. All of the consultation was closed to the public, said Matthew Garrington of Environment Colorado, the group that obtained the documents from the EPA. According to the documents, the EPA, with the help of Powertech, has been developing internal guidance documents that will govern how the agency reviews Powertech’s application for a mine permit. The permit will allow Powertech to contaminate a portion of an aquifer with the company’s in situ leach uranium mining process…

“One reason the Centennial Project is receiving this level of technical scrutiny is because many residences located near the proposed Centennial Project rely on private wells for their drinking water, and many of those drinking water wells are completed in the same Fox Hills Formation aquifer [ed. the Fox Hills is part of the Denver Basin Aquifer system] as the mining zone aquifer,” according to one October 2008 internal EPA document. EPA spokesman Richard Mylott said Thursday that document does not reflect the agency’s current approach to Class III permitting.

Most of the e-mails Environment Colorado obtained regard an “aquifer exemption,” and “aquifer exemption boundary,” which is the extent to which the EPA may allow Powertech to contaminate the aquifer as part of the uranium mining process. The e-mails between the EPA and Powertech partners, Knight Piesold Consulting and R2 Incorporated, discuss where the aquifer exemption boundary should be placed.

In an April 2008 e-mail between EPA Underground Injection Control staffer Valois Shea and an R2 Incorporated employee, Shea asks if draft figures in a Class III permit application checklist comport with R2’s expectations. “You will get to be the pioneering guinea pig that will make life easier for others following in your path,” Shea writes.

Powertech Vice President Richard Blubaugh said Thursday such consultation with the EPA was both informal and standard practice. Class III permit applicants are “encouraged to go in and meet with the agency to understand what the requirements are,” he said. “Their regulations are complex. It really is something everybody does. It’s just routine to go in and talk to find out how they interpret the rule and what they expect to see in the application.”

Mylott agreed, saying it’s both normal and in the public’s best interest for the EPA to discuss the technical aspects of in situ leaching with Powertech. The EPA’s underground injection control program, he said, is designed to protect drinking water. “Achieving that goal depends on a solid understanding of what the permit applicant intends to do and the steps that will be taken to protect drinking water sources,” Mylott said.

Thanks to the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams) for the heads up.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

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