[Federal Register Volume 72, Number 3 (Friday, January 5, 2007)]
[Notices]
[Pages 586-588]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E6-22583]


-----------------------------------------------------------------------

NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION

[Docket No. 40-8964]


Notice of Availability of Environmental Assessment and Finding of 
No Significant Impact for the Addition of the Reynolds Ranch Area to 
Power Resources, Inc's Smith Ranch/Highlands Uranium Project, Converse 
County, WY

AGENCY: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

ACTION: Notice of availability.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: James Park, Environmental and 
Performance Assessment Directorate, Division of Waste Management and 
Environmental Protection, Office of Federal and State Materials and 
Environmental Management Programs, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 
Washington, DC 20555. Telephone: (301) 415-5835; Fax number: (301) 415-
5397; E-mail: jrp@nrc.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

I. Introduction

    By letter dated January 14, 2005, Power Resources, Inc. (PRI) 
submitted a request to amend its U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission 
(NRC) Source Material License SUA-1548 for the Smith Ranch-Highland 
Uranium Project (SR-HUP), located in Converse County, Wyoming. PRI 
requested that the SR-HUP permit area be modified to include the 
Reynolds Ranch area, which encompasses approximately 8700 acres (3521 
hectares) and is contiguous with the current northern boundary of the 
SR-HUP permit area. PRI desires to conduct in-situ leach uranium mining 
in the Reynolds Ranch area. PRI modified its amendment application by 
letter dated April 7, 2005.
    The NRC staff has prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) in 
support of its review of PRI's application in accordance with the 
requirements of 10 CFR part 51. Based on the EA, the NRC has concluded 
that a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) is appropriate.

II. EA Summary

Background

    PRI's SR-HUP is a commercial in-situ leach (ISL) uranium mining 
facility located in the South Powder River Basin, Converse County, 
Wyoming. The main office and Central Processing Plant complex is 
located at Smith Ranch, about 17 air miles (22 road miles) (27 air/35 
road kilometers (km)) northeast of Glenrock, Wyoming, and 23 air miles 
(25 road miles) (37 air/40 road km) northwest of Douglas, Wyoming. NRC 
issued PRI's current NRC license for the SR-HUP (Source Material 
License SUA-1548) on August 18, 2003, as part of a license renewal 
process. Commercial ISL uranium production began at the Highland site 
in January 1988 and at the Smith Ranch site in June 1997.
    Under SUA-1548, PRI is authorized, through its ISL process, to 
produce up to 5.5 million pounds (2.5 million kilograms) per year of 
tri-uranium octoxide (U3O8), also known as 
``yellowcake.'' PRI's current annual production is less than half of 
this limit.

Review Scope

    The NRC staff has reviewed PRI's request in accordance with the 
NRC's environmental protection regulations in 10 CFR part 51. Those 
regulations implement section 102(2) of the National Environmental 
Policy Act of 1969, as amended. The EA provides the results of the NRC 
staff's environmental review; the NRC staff's radiation safety review 
of PRI's request will be documented separately in a Safety Evaluation 
Report.
    The NRC staff has prepared the EA in accordance with NRC 
requirements in 10 CFR 51.21 and 51.30, and with the associated 
guidance in NRC report NUREG-1748, ``Environmental Review Guidance for 
Licensing Actions Associated with Nuclear Material Safety and 
Safeguards Programs'' (NRC, 2003). In 40 CFR 1508.9, the Council on 
Environmental Quality defines an EA as a concise public document that 
briefly provides sufficient evidence and analysis for determining 
whether to prepare an environmental impact statement or a FONSI.
    The NRC staff's review addressed the environmental impacts of PRI's 
currently-approved mining operations at the SR-HUP only insofar as such 
operations would be modified by the proposed mining at the Reynolds 
Ranch amendment area.

Proposed Action

    PRI is proposing to modify its permit area boundary to accommodate 
the Reynolds Ranch area, and to conduct ISL operations within that 
area. As part of such operations, PRI would construct eight wellfields 
and a satellite ion-exchange facility for the recovery of uranium and 
for wellfield restoration following mining operations, and operate a 
deep disposal well for the disposal of liquid wastes. The ore deposits 
in the SR-HUP and Reynolds Ranch amendment area generally occur at 
depths of 450 feet (137 meters (m)) to 1000 feet (305 m) below the 
surface in long narrow trends varying from a few hundred to several 
thousand feet long and 20 to 300 feet (6 to 91 m) wide. The depth 
depends on the local topography, the dip of the formation, and the 
stratigraphic horizon. At the Reynolds Ranch amendment area, the 
shallower ore deposits are contained within the U/S-Sand, with the 
mineable ore in this sand occurring at approximate depths of 380 to 525 
feet (116 to 160 m). Most of the remaining uranium mineralization at 
the Smith Ranch and Reynolds Ranch areas occurs in the O-Sand formation 
at depths of 700 to 900 feet (213 to 274 m).
    Following uranium recovery in each mining unit, PRI would restore 
ground-water conditions in the wellfield. Restoration techniques would 
involve ground-water sweep, clean water injection, and geochemical 
stabilization of the aquifer with a reductant. The goal of groundwater 
restoration is to return the aquifer to the baseline conditions that 
existed prior to the start of uranium recovery; or, if approved, to a 
secondary standard of pre-mining ``class of use.''

Purpose and Need for the Proposed Action

    PRI currently conducts commercial-scale ISL uranium mining at the 
SR-HUP permit area. PRI is proposing to expand its mining operations 
and to conduct ISL mining in the Reynolds Ranch amendment area. This 
would

[[Page 587]]

enable PRI to continue to meet the current and future needs of its 
customers for U3O8 that would be made eventually 
into fuel for commercially-operated nuclear power reactors.

Alternatives to the Proposed Action

No Action Alternative
    Under the ``no action'' alternative, PRI would continue to conduct 
ISL mining operations within the existing boundaries of the SR-HUP, but 
it would not be authorized to conduct such mining operations in the 
Reynolds Ranch area.
Other Alternative
    In the southern Powder River Basin, where the SR-HUP facility is 
located, uranium ore has been mined via open pits and underground 
mining in the past. This activity occurred from 1970 to 1984 at the 
Exxon Highland facility, which is adjacent to the eastern edge of the 
SR-HUP permit area, and from the mid-1970s to 1986 at Union Pacific 
Resources--Bear Creek site, which is approximately 15 miles (24 km) 
northeast of the SR-HUP permit area.
    The environmental impacts associated with the recovery and 
processing of uranium ore obtained via open pit or underground mining 
are generally recognized as being considerably greater than those 
associated with in-situ leach mining. This is due predominantly to the 
need to access the uranium ore via open pits several hundred feet deep 
or via extensive underground mine workings, and to the conventional 
milling process, which generates a significant amount of waste relative 
to the amount of ore processed (roughly 95% of the ore is disposed as 
waste). Extensive mill tailings ponds are needed to dispose of these 
wastes. Therefore, although both open pit and underground mining of 
uranium has occurred near the Reynolds Ranch amendment area, these 
alternatives were not be considered further in this analysis.

Environmental Impacts

No-Action Alternative
    Under the no-action alternative, PRI would not be authorized to 
conduct ISL mining operations in the Reynolds Ranch area. PRI would 
continue to conduct such operations within the SR-HUP permit area. The 
Reynolds Ranch area would remain open to its current uses: Livestock 
grazing and wildlife use.
Proposed Action
    The major potential environmental impacts associated with ISL 
uranium recovery are impacts to groundwater quality, air quality, and 
land use, radiological impacts, and impacts from waste disposal.
    ISL operations in the Reynolds Ranch area are not expected to 
impact local uses of surface or ground water. To the extent possible, 
PRI will use existing access roads in the area; however, it is expected 
that PRI will need to construct additional roads for its operations. 
Ephemeral drainages may be affected by this road construction, as well 
as by the construction of wells for production and monitoring. PRI 
would consider and implement erosion measures appropriate for the 
situation, potentially including crossing drainages at right angles; 
contouring and re-vegetation to stabilize soils; placement of hay 
bales; the use of diversion ditches, engineered culverts, and energy 
dissipaters to control runoff; and limiting travel within the drainage 
bottoms to necessary well construction and maintenance activities.
    With respect to ground water, while it is common to dramatically 
degrade the water quality within the mineralized zone during uranium 
recovery activities, this impact is localized and temporary (i.e., 
extending over the life of mining operations). Following mining, PRI is 
required to restore the affected groundwater to its pre-mining quality 
or if approved, to its pre-mining class-of-use. PRI submits the results 
of its restoration activities to the NRC and the State of Wyoming 
Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) for final approval, prior to 
the termination of such activities. To date, the NRC staff has approved 
groundwater restoration activities at the SR-HUP site in 1987 for the 
R&D operations and in 2004 for the A-Wellfield during commercial 
operations.
    In addition, PRI's operations in the Reynolds Ranch area are not 
expected to affect local stock and domestic wells as these wells are 
completed in stratigraphic horizons above the zones planned for ISL 
mining. Pre-mining aquifer testing by PRI would ensure that confining 
layers are present to restrict the vertical movement of ISL leaching 
solutions and to restrict the influence of pumping in the deeper mining 
zones on water levels in the stratigraphically higher non-mining 
aquifers.
    The primary source of radiological impact to the environment from 
site operations is gaseous radon-222, which is released from the 
satellite facility and from the wellfields. The highest radon-222 
concentration estimated was 1.1E-03 working level at a distance of 0.9 
mi (1.5 km) ENE of the proposed satellite facility. This concentration 
is 4% of the 100 mrem/yr effluent concentration limit in 10 CFR part 
20. The total annual effective dose was 27 mrem/yr at the unoccupied 
Mason House, and 4 mrem/yr at the Reynolds Ranch. Both of these dose 
values are well below the 10 CFR part 20 limit of 100 mrem/yr to 
members of the public. These concentrations and doses are from the 
mining operations anticipated during year 8 at the Reynolds Ranch area, 
which is when the highest doses would be expected, since in that year, 
PRI plans to have four of its anticipated eight wellfields in 
production and three other wellfields in restoration.
    Uranium recovered at Reynolds Ranch would be processed at the Smith 
Ranch central processing plant (CPP). For final yellowcake processing 
at the CPP, PRI employs a vacuum dryer that collects in a liquid 
condenser the dust and gas generated from drying. As a result, no 
particulates will be released to the environment. The main non-
radiologic gaseous effluents that would be released from the operation 
of processing equipment in the CPP include gases such as CO2 
and hydrogen chloride. At the CPP, these gases are vented directly to 
the atmosphere where they are readily dispersed.
    With respect to land use, the primary impact would be the fencing 
off of approximately 325 acres (131 ha) of the 8704 acres (3521 ha) to 
exclude livestock until the completion of groundwater restoration and 
surface reclamation. These effects, however, would be limited, 
temporary, and reversible as the land would be returned to its former 
grazing use following post-recovery surface reclamation.
    Air quality would be impacted by the release of diesel emissions 
from drilling and construction equipment and from fugitive dust from 
construction activities and vehicle traffic. Diesel emissions would be 
minor and of short duration, and would be readily dispersed in the 
atmosphere. Fugitive dust generated from construction and drilling 
activity, as well as vehicle traffic on unpaved roads, would be 
localized and of short duration. Localized areas affected by the laying 
of pipelines and drilling of wells would be reclaimed, topsoiled, and 
re-seeded.
    PRI is required under license condition 9.6 of SUA-1548 to dispose 
of 11e.(2) byproduct materials generated by project operations at a 
licensed byproduct waste disposal site. Currently, PRI disposes of its 
radioactively-contaminated solid wastes at Pathfinder Mine Corp.'s 
Shirley Basin uranium mill site in eastern Wyoming. PRI will also send 
liquid wastes from its process down a planned deep disposal well 
permitted by WDEQ.

[[Page 588]]

 Conclusion

    The NRC has reviewed the environmental impacts of the proposed 
action in accordance with the requirements of 10 CFR part 51. The NRC 
staff has determined that the addition of the Reynolds Ranch area to 
the SR-HUP operational area for the purpose of constructing and 
operating in-situ leach uranium mining units and supporting 
infrastructure, would not significantly affect the quality of the human 
environment. Therefore, an environmental impact statement (EIS) is not 
warranted for the proposed action, and pursuant to 10 CFR Part 51.31, a 
FONSI is appropriate.

Agencies and Persons Consulted

    The NRC staff consulted with other Federal and State agencies 
regarding the proposed action. These consultations were intended to 
afford these agencies the opportunity to comment on the proposed 
action, and to ensure that the requirements of Section 106 of the 
National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and Section 7 of the 
Endangered Species Act (ESA) were met with respect to the proposed 
action.
    By letter dated April 10, 2006, the NRC staff provided a draft copy 
of the EA to the Casper, WY field office of the U.S. Bureau of Land 
Management (USBLM) for its review and comment. By electronic mail on 
April 24, 2006 and July 5, 2006, the USBLM provided comments on the 
draft EA. In its comments, the USBLM focused on land use and hydrology 
issues. The NRC staff revised the EA to address the USBLM's comments.
    The NRC staff also consulted with the WDEQ and the Wyoming 
Department of Transportation (WDOT). By letter dated April 10, 2006, 
the NRC staff provided a draft copy of the EA to the WDEQ for its 
review and comment. By phone conversation on August 15, 2006, the WDEQ 
provided its comments, requesting clarification of the post-mining 
groundwater restoration standards and of the groundwater transfer 
restoration process and provided some editorial comments. The NRC staff 
revised the EA to address the WDEQ's comments. In response to November 
2005 information requests from the NRC staff, the WDOT provided traffic 
counts and accident data and analyses for the stretch of county road 
that borders the western boundary of the Reynolds Ranch area.
    With respect to the requirements of Section 7 of the ESA, the NRC 
staff consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mountain-
Prairie Region (USFWS/MPR). By letter dated September 28, 2005, the 
USFWS/MPR provided a list of endangered and threatened species, as well 
as comments on migratory birds and wetlands and associated riparian 
areas. Based on the NRC staff's review, there are no endangered or 
threatened species, either plant or animal, nor is there critical 
habitat, in the Reynolds Ranch area. There is not expected to be an 
effect on any endangered or threatened species or critical habitat from 
ISL mining operations in the Reynolds Ranch area.
    Pursuant to the requirements of Section 106 of the NHPA, the NRC 
staff consulted with the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office 
(WSHPO). By letter dated August 11, 2005, the NRC staff requested 
information from the WSHPO regarding cultural and historic properties 
that may be affected the proposed addition of the Reynolds Ranch area 
to the SR-HUP operational area. By return letter dated August 24, 2005, 
the WSHPO provided its concurrence that no historic properties would be 
adversely affected by the proposed action.

III. Finding of No Significant Impact

    On the basis of the EA, the NRC staff has concluded that there are 
no significant environmental impacts from the addition of the Reynolds 
Ranch area to the SR-HUP operational area for the purpose of conducting 
ISL uranium mining. Therefore, the NRC staff has determined not to 
prepare an EIS.

IV. Further Information

    Documents related to this action, including the application for 
amendment and supporting documentation, will be available 
electronically at the NRC's Electronic Reading Room at: http://www.NRC.gov/reading-rm/adams.html. From this site, you can access the 
NRC's Agencywide Document Access and Management System (ADAMS), which 
provides text and image files of NRC's public documents. The ADAMS 
accession numbers for the documents related to this notice are:

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 Document date                                 Description                 ADAMS accession No.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1/14/2005......................................  PRI's license amendment request.......              ML050390076
4/7/2005.......................................  PRI's response to NRC staff request                  ML51150034
                                                  for additional information.
8/11/2005......................................  WSHPO concurrence on NRC staff                      ML052200552
                                                  determination of no adverse affect.
4/10/2006......................................  NRC staff's transmittal of pre-                     ML060600176
                                                  decisional draft EA to USBLM and WDEQ.             ML060600191
4/24/2006 7/5/2006.............................  USBLM comments on draft EA............              ML062580462
                                                                                                     ML062610249
                                                                                                     ML062610250
9/30/2006......................................  NRC staff final EA for addition of the              ML062690386
                                                  Reynolds Ranch amendment area.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    If you do not have access to ADAMS or if there are problems in 
accessing the documents located in ADAMS, contact the NRC's Public 
Document Room (PDR) Reference staff at 1-800-397-4209, 301-415-4737, or 
by e-mail to pdr@nrc.gov.
    These documents may also be viewed electronically on the public 
computers located at the NRC's PDR, O-1F21, One White Flint North, 
11555 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852. The PDR reproduction 
contractor will copy documents for a fee.

    Dated at Rockville, Maryland this 15th day of December 2006.

    For the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Scott C. Flanders,
Director, Division of Waste Management and Environmental Protection, 
Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management 
Programs.
[FR Doc. E6-22583 Filed 1-4-07; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 7590-01-P