[Federal Register Volume 72, Number 3 (Friday, January 5, 2007)]
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
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: [email protected].
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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 [email protected].
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
[FR Doc. E6-22583 Filed 1-4-07; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 7590-01-P