[Federal Register Volume 73, Number 5 (Tuesday, January 8, 2008)]
[Pages 1367-1370]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E8-101]



[Docket No. 40-8964]

Notice of Availability of Environmental Assessment and Finding of 
No Significant Impact for the Addition of the SR-2 Satellite Facility 
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: Paul Michalak, Decommissioning and 
Uranium Recovery Licensing 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) 415-7612; Fax number: (301) 415-
5955; E-mail: [email protected].


I. Introduction

    Power Resources, Inc. (PRI) currently holds Source Material License 
SUA-1548 for the Smith Ranch-Highland Uranium Project (SR-HUP) site, 
located in Converse County, Wyoming. Source Material License SUA-1548 
permits PRI to conduct In Situ Leach (ISL) uranium recovery operations 
at the SR-HUP site. As specified in Source Material License SUA-1548, 
License Condition 10.5.1 requires the following:

    The licensee is prohibited from constructing new Satellite 
Facilities or waste water evaporation ponds prior to NRC review and 
approval of designs and specifications.

    By letter dated October 11, 2006, PRI submitted a request to 
construct ISL Satellite SR-2 (SR-2) at the SR-HUP site. In this 
proposed action, an ISL satellite facility is a structure (i.e., 
building and associated equipment) where the ion exchange portion of 
the ISL processing circuit is conducted. ISL Satellite SR-2 would 
service Mine Units 9, 10, 11, and 12, located near the southwest corner 
of Smith Ranch. It is estimated that construction of SR-2 and 
associated access road would impact approximately 1.5 acres of land.
    The NRC staff has prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) in 
support of its review of PRI's request 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 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.
    PRI current operations at the SR-HUP include an ISL Central 
Processing Plant (CPP) and an ISL Satellite facility (SR-1) at the 
Smith Ranch site and two ISL Satellite facilities (Satellite Nos. 2 and 
3) at the Highland site.
    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 
    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

[[Page 1368]]

Associated with Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards Programs.'' 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 (EIS) 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 addition of SR-2.

Proposed Action

    PRI is proposing to construct and operate SR-2 at the SR-HUP site. 
Construction of SR-2 would entail the clearing of about 1.5 acres of 
land due to satellite building and access road construction. The SR-2 
facility would be the source of the barren lixiviant pumped into the 
uranium ore zone and the recipient of the pregnant lixiviant recovered 
from Mine Units 9, 10, 11, and 12. Upon recovery from the subsurface, 
the pregnant lixiviant would be pumped to a series of IX columns 
located within SR-2, where uranium from the lixiviant would be 
extracted from the solution via adsorption onto the ion exchange (IX) 
resin in the columns. Following IX extraction of the uranium, the resin 
would be removed from the tanks and transported to the Smith Ranch CPP 
for further processing (i.e., elution, precipitation, drying into a 
U3O8 powder, and packing into 55-gallon drums). 
As part of supporting the ISL operation at future Mine Units 9, 10, 11, 
and 12, activities at SR-2 would include lixiviant and waste water 
storage, ion exchange, resin transfer, reverse osmosis operations 
associated with ground water restoration, and deep well injection of 
production and restoration effluent wastes. Operation period for SR-2 
and Mine Units 9, 10, 11, and 12, is estimated to be approximately nine 

Purpose and Need for the Proposed Action

    Construction of a second satellite facility at the Smith Ranch site 
would enable PRI to conduct IX exchange activities in close proximity 
to future Mine Units 9, 10, 11, and 12, all of which are located in the 
southwest portion of Smith Ranch, approximately 4.5 miles southwest of 
the closest processing facility (Smith Ranch CPP). This would also 
allow PRI to continue to meet the current and future needs of its 
customers for U3O8, a product that would 
eventually be used in fuel for commercially-operated nuclear power 

Alternatives to the Proposed Action

 No Action Alternative
    Under the ``no action'' alternative, PRI would continue to conduct 
ISL uranium recovery operations at existing satellite facilities within 
the permit boundary of the SR-HUP, but it would not be authorized to 
build and operate SR-2.
Other Alternatives
    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 (now owned by Anadarko Petroleum), 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 ISL uranium recovery. Underground mining would produce 
ore that is crushed and ground in a conventional uranium mill. Uranium 
within the crushed material would be extracted through leaching. 
Conventional uranium mining and milling produces considerable volumes 
of waste (e.g., slag, mill tailings, etc.) which must be disposed. In 
the southern Powder River Basin, where the SR-HUP facility is located, 
uranium was historically mined via open pits and subsurface mine shafts 
during the 1970s and 1980s. At SR-HUP, construction of the Bill Smith 
mine shaft was initiated in September 1972, and completed in early 
1977. However, due to porous sands and heaving shale zones in the Fort 
Union formation, conventional subsurface mining was terminated in June 
1978. Open pit uranium mining occurred from 1970 to 1984 at the Exxon 
Highland facility, which is adjacent to the eastern edge of the SR-HUP 
permit area (approximately 15 miles northeast of SR-2). Although the 
potential for future conventional mining exists, two factors make 
conventional mining in the vicinity of the SR-HUP unlikely: ISL 
operations are approximately two-to-three times more cost effective 
than open pit mining/conventional milling operations; and virtually all 
the South Powder River Basin uranium ore deposits are amenable to ISL 
development. Therefore, although both open pit and underground mining 
of uranium has occurred near SR-2, these alternatives were not 
considered further in this analysis.

Environmental Impacts

No-Action Alternative
    Under the no-action alternative, PRI would not be authorized to 
operate a satellite ISL facility in the southwestern portion of SR-HUP. 
PRI would continue to operate its other satellite facilities within the 
SR-HUP permit area. The SR-2 area would remain open to its current 
uses: livestock grazing and wildlife use.

Proposed Action

    The addition of SR-2 to the SR-HUP would add approximately 10 to 12 
employees to the SR-HUP work force. With such a small increase in the 
work force, socioeconomic impacts to local housing, schools, health and 
social services, transportation, and other support facilities are 
negligible. Additionally, given the remote rural location of SR-HUP, no 
impacts related to environmental justice issues were identified.
    The major potential environmental impacts associated with 
construction and operation of SR-2 include the disturbance of about 1.5 
acres of land due to satellite building construction and operation and 
support road construction.
    The primary impact on land use will be the temporary loss 
(approximately nine years) of about 1.5 acres from livestock use. These 
effects will be limited, temporary, and reversible through returning 
the land to its former grazing use following completion of post-
recovery surface reclamation. The temporary alteration of an 
approximately 1.5 acre area is not considered to constitute a 
significant adverse impact to either ecological systems or wildlife.
    To the extent possible, PRI will use existing access roads in the 
area; however, it is expected that, as part of the SR-2 construction, 
PRI will need to construct an access road and widen existing roads. 
Ephemeral drainages may be affected by this road construction, as well 
as by the construction of the SR-2 satellite building. When designing 
and constructing new roads, PRI will consider weather, elevation 
contours, land rights, cultural resources, and drainages. When 
constructing new roads, PRI will make efforts to cross ephemeral 
drainages or channels at right angles to enhance erosion protection

[[Page 1369]]

measures. However, as it may not always be feasible or warranted to 
construct roads or crossings at right angles or along elevation 
contours, PRI will consider and implement erosion measures appropriate 
for the situation.
    Air quality will be impacted by the release of diesel emissions 
from 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 activity, as well as vehicle 
traffic on unpaved roads, would be localized and of short duration. 
Localized areas affected by site operations would be reclaimed, 
topsoiled, and re-seeded.
    Operation of SR-2 would involve the transportation of uranium-
charged resin beads from the satellite facility to the Smith Ranch CPP, 
and the transportation of the stripped resin beads back to the 
satellite facility. Expected truck traffic between SR-2 and the Smith 
Ranch CPP would initially be about one truck a day, with a decrease in 
traffic, as the well fields are mined out. It is not expected that the 
additional traffic would result in an increased accident rate for the 
stretch of Ross Road between the SR-2 access road and the Smith Ranch 
CPP. However, in the case of an accident involving a shipment of 
uranium-loaded resin, the environmental impacts would be expected to be 
small. Overturning of a tanker truck carrying the loaded resin could 
result in the release of some resin and residual water. The resin 
beads, which would be deposited on the ground a short distance from the 
truck, would retain the uranium, absent a strong brine to strip the 
resin. PRI would collect the resin and any contaminated soils and 
dispose of them appropriately (e.g., in a licensed facility). All 
disturbed areas would then be reclaimed in accordance with the 
applicable NRC and State regulations. Airborne release of uranium would 
not occur since the uranium would remain fixed to the beads.
    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. In a worst case scenario 
that considered the cumulative radiological impacts for the entire SR-
HUP operation including SR-2, the two nearest SR-2 residents, Sunquest 
Ranch, and the Vollman Ranch, are estimated to receive a peak maximum 
yearly dose of 17.5 and 13.2 mrem/yr, respectively. However, it is very 
unlikely that these peak doses would be reached due to the modeling 
methodology and input data conservatism. Additionally, the airborne 
sampling program at PRI has been used and would continue to be used to 
verify the off site dose to the nearest resident and the general 
population. NRC staff evaluated the model results and has determined 
that estimated dose to the nearest resident and members of the public 
meet the requirements of 10 CFR 20.1301 (i.e., 100 mrem/yr).
    In terms of waste disposal, 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 Mines Corporation's Shirley Basin uranium mill 
site in eastern Wyoming. PRI has submitted a Class I Underground 
Injection Well application with the Wyoming Department of Environmental 
Quality (WDEQ) Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program for liquid 
waste disposal. Wastewater disposal associated with PRI's SR-2 
operations is not expected to affect local stock and domestic wells as 
these wells are completed in stratigraphic horizons far above the zones 
planned for wastewater disposal.


    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 construction and operation of SR-2 would 
not significantly affect the quality of the human environment. 
Therefore, an EIS is not warranted for the proposed action, and 
pursuant to 10 CFR 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 
    The WDEQ administers and implements the State rules and regulations 
for ISL related activities. PRI possesses a current WDEQ mining permit 
for its commercial operations. By letter dated September 13, 2007, the 
NRC staff provided a draft copy of the SR-2 EA to the WDEQ for its 
review and comment. By correspondence dated November 29, 2007, the WDEQ 
indicated it had no comments on the EA (WDEQ 2007).
    By letter dated June 26, 2007, with follow-up correspondence on 
September 19, 2007, NRC staff requested information from the U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service, Mountain-Prairie Region (USFWS/MPR) regarding 
endangered or threatened species or critical habitat in the SR-2 area. 
No response was received. In absence of a response, NRC staff 
identified a USFWS/MPR Web site (dated December 2006) which listed, by 
county, endangered and threatened species in Wyoming. Utilizing the 
Converse County, Wyoming list, NRC staff has concluded that there are 
no endangered or threatened species, either plant or animal, nor is 
there critical habitat, in SR-2.
    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 June 14, 2007, the NRC staff requested 
information from the WSHPO regarding cultural and historic properties 
that may be affected by SR-2. Further correspondence documenting 
Section 106 consultations was sent to WSHPO on December 4, 2007. By 
return letter dated December 12, 2007, the WSHPO provided its 
concurrence that no historic properties would be adversely affected by 
the proposed action.
    By letters dated July 20, 2007, the NRC staff initiated a Section 
106 of the NHPA consultation with numerous Native American cultural and 
tribal/business representatives located in Oklahoma, Wyoming, North 
Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and New Mexico. The consultation 
requested information regarding historical sites or cultural resources 
within the southwest area of SR-HUP (i.e., SR-2 and Mine Units 9, 10, 
11, and 12), including any specific knowledge of any sites that are 
believed to have traditional religious and cultural significance.
    The NRC has received responses from two Native American tribes: 
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (dated August 20, 2007) and Standing Rock 
Sioux Tribe (dated September 6, 2007). Following telephone calls to 
both parties, NRC staff forwarded supplemental information to the 
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (dated September 21, 2007) and Standing Rock 
Sioux Tribe (dated October 3, 2007) indicating that the proposed action 
would not impact Class III Cultural Resource inventoried sites deemed 
eligible for inclusion to the NRHP. The supplemental information also 
included planned mitigation measures (i.e., buffer zones) to protect

[[Page 1370]]

sensitive cultural resource sites. NRC staff has conducted multiple 
follow-up calls to both parties. No further comments have been 

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 SR-2 to 
the SR-HUP operational area for the purpose of conducting satellite IX 
processing of uranium-bearing solution. 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         accession No.
10/11/06.......................  PRI's request to            ML062930232
                                  construct ISL
                                  Satellite SR-2.
12/28/07.......................  PRI's supplemental          ML070100517
                                  information and
                                  responses to NRC staff
                                  request for additional
7/30/07........................  .......................     ML072210887
3/17/07........................  PRI's supplemental          ML071380284
                                  information concerning
                                  determination of
                                  radiation dose from SR-
4/16/07........................  .......................     ML071100064
5/4/07.........................  .......................     ML071510592
11/29/07.......................  WDEQ comments on pre-       ML073450518
                                  decisional draft EA.
12/12/07.......................  WSHPO concurrence on        ML073540744
                                  NRC staff
                                  determination of no
                                  adverse affect.
12/26/07.......................  NRC staff final EA for      ML073460771
                                  addition of the ISL
                                  Satellite SR-2.

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 27th day of December 2007.
    For the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Keith I. McConnell,
Deputy Director, Decommissioning and Uranium Recovery, Licensing 
Directorate, Division of Waste Management and Environmental Protection, 
Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management 
 [FR Doc. E8-101 Filed 1-7-08; 8:45 am]