[Federal Register Volume 74, Number 107 (Friday, June 5, 2009)]
[Pages 27052-27054]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E9-13027]




Notice of Availability of Final Generic Environmental Impact 
Statement for In-Situ Leach Uranium Milling Facilities

AGENCY: Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: Notice is hereby given that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory 
Commission (NRC), with the cooperation of the Wyoming Department of 
Environmental Quality, Land Quality Division, is issuing a final 
Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) that assesses the 
potential environmental impacts of the construction, operation, aquifer 
restoration, and decommissioning at an in-situ leach (ISL) uranium 
milling facility located in particular regions of the western United 
States. The rationale for developing the GEIS is that ISL facilities 
use the same or very similar technology, such that the potential 
environmental impacts associated with the technology could be assessed 
on a generic (programmatic) basis. In this way repetitive reviews of 
certain of these impacts could be avoided, thus focusing NRC's 
evaluation on unique issues of concern for each ISL license 
    The NRC anticipates that it will receive numerous new license 
applications for ISL uranium milling within the next several years. NRC 
will use the GEIS to provide a starting point for the staff's National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analyses for site-

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specific license applications for new ISL facilities. Additionally, the 
NRC staff plans to use the GEIS, along with applicable previous site-
specific environmental review documents, in its NEPA analysis for 
applications to renew or otherwise amend operations at existing NRC-
licensed ISL facilities. In these analyses, NRC would evaluate the 
site-specific data to determine whether relevant sections of the GEIS 
could be incorporated by reference into the site-specific environmental 
review. Additionally, NRC would determine which GEIS impact conclusions 
can be adopted in the site-specific review and whether additional data 
and analysis is needed to determine the potential impacts for a 
specific environmental resource area. NRC will prepare a Supplemental 
Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on a license application for a 
new ISL facility. NRC will prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA), 
SEIS, or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for license renewals or 
amendments to ISL facility applications.

ADDRESSES: The GEIS may be accessed on the Internet at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/ by selecting 
``NUREG-1910.'' Additionally, the NRC maintains an Agencywide Documents 
Access and Management System (ADAMS), which provides text and image 
files of the NRC's public documents. The GEIS and its appendices may 
also be accessed through the NRC's Public Electronic Reading Room on 
the Internet at: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/adams.html. If you 
either do not have access to ADAMS or if there is a problem accessing 
documents located in ADAMS, contact the NRC Public Document Room (PDR) 
reference staff at 1 (800) 397-4209, 1 (301) 415-4737 or by e-mail to 
[email protected].
    Information and documents associated with the GEIS are also 
available for public review through the NRC Public Electronic Reading 
Room on the Internet at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/adams.html and at 
the NRC's Web site for the GEIS, http://www.nrc.gov/materials/uranium-recovery/geis.html. Both information and documents associated with the 
Final GEIS also are available for inspection at the Commission's PDR, 
NRC's Headquarters Building, 11555 Rockville Pike (first floor), 
Rockville, Maryland. For those without access to the Internet, paper 
copies of any electronic documents may be obtained for a fee by 
contacting the NRC's PDR at 1-800-397-4209. The GEIS and related 
documents may also be found at the following public libraries:

Albuquerque Main Library, 501 Copper NW., Albuquerque, New Mexico 
87102, 505-768-5141.
Mother Whiteside Memorial Library, 525 West High Street, Grants, New 
Mexico 87020, 505-287-4793.
Octavia Fellin Public Library, 115 W Hill Avenue, Gallup, New Mexico 
87301, 505-863-1291.
Natrona County Public Library, 307 East Second Street, Casper, Wyoming 
82601, 307-332-5194.
Carbon County Public Library, 215 W Buffalo Street, Rawlins, Wyoming 
82301, 307-328-2618.
Campbell County Public Library, 2101 South 4J Road, Gillette, Wyoming 
82718, 307-687-0009.
Weston County Library, 23 West Main Street, Newcastle, Wyoming 82701, 
Chadron Public Library, 507 Bordeaux Street, Chadron, Nebraska 69337, 
Rapid City Public Library, 610 Quincy Street, Rapid City, South Dakota 
57701, 605-394-4171.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. James Park, Project Manager, 
Environmental Review Branch, 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) 415-6935; e-mail: 
[email protected].

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Atomic Energy Act (AEA) and the Uranium 
Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978 (UMTRCA) authorize NRC to 
issue licenses for the possession and use of source material and 
byproduct material. The statutes require NRC to license facilities that 
meet NRC regulatory requirements that were developed to protect public 
health and safety from radiological hazards. ISL uranium milling 
facilities must meet NRC regulatory requirements in order to obtain 
this license to operate. Under the NRC's environmental protection 
regulations in Title 10, Part 51 of the Code of Federal Regulations (10 
CFR part 51), which implements NEPA, issuance of a license to possess 
and use source material for uranium milling requires an EIS or a 
supplement to an EIS.
    To help fulfill this requirement, the NRC staff and its contractor, 
the Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analyses, in cooperation with 
the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (Land Quality 
Division), prepared the GEIS. The GEIS was prepared to assess the 
potential environmental impacts associated with the construction, 
operation, aquifer restoration, and decommissioning of an ISL facility 
in four specified geographic areas of the western United States (U.S.). 
The intent of the GEIS is to determine which impacts would be 
essentially the same for all ISL facilities and which ones would result 
in varying levels of impacts for different facilities, thus requiring 
further site-specific information to determine the potential impacts. 
As such, the GEIS provides a starting point for its NEPA analyses for 
site-specific license applications for new ISL facilities, as well as 
for applications to renew or amend existing ISL licenses.
    The NRC is expecting numerous license applications for new ISL 
uranium milling facilities in the next several years. ISL milling 
facilities recover uranium from low grade ores that may not be 
economically recoverable by other methods. In this process, a leaching 
agent, such as oxygen with sodium bicarbonate, is added to native 
groundwater for injection through wells into the subsurface ore body to 
dissolve the uranium. Before ISL operations can begin, the portion of 
the aquifer designated for uranium recovery must be exempted by EPA as 
an underground source of drinking water in accordance with the Safe 
Drinking Water Act (40 CFR 146.4). The leach solution, containing the 
dissolved uranium, is pumped back to the surface and sent to the 
processing plant, where ion exchange is used to separate the uranium 
from the solution. The underground leaching of the uranium also frees 
other metals and minerals from the host rock. Operators of ISL 
facilities are required to restore the groundwater affected by the 
leaching operations and decommission the facility when operations have 
ceased. The milling process concentrates the recovered uranium into the 
product known as ``yellowcake,'' which is then shipped to uranium 
conversion facilities for further processing in the overall uranium 
fuel cycle.
    The proposed Federal action identified in the GEIS is to grant an 
application to obtain, renew, or amend a source material license for an 
ISL facility. In reviewing a license application for a new ISL 
facility, NRC will use the GEIS as starting point for its site-specific 
environmental reviews. NRC will evaluate site-specific data and 
information to determine if the applicant's proposed activities and the 
site characteristics are consistent with

[[Page 27054]]

those evaluated in the GEIS. NRC will then determine which sections of 
the GEIS can be incorporated by reference and which impact conclusions 
can be adopted in the site-specific environmental review, and whether 
additional data or analysis is needed to determine the environmental 
impacts for a specific resource area. Additionally, the GEIS provides 
guidance in the evaluation for certain impact analyses (e.g., 
cumulative impacts, environmental justice) for which the GEIS did not 
make impact conclusions. No decision on whether to license an ISL 
facility will be made based on the GEIS alone. The licensing decision 
will be based, in part, on a site-specific environmental analysis that 
makes use of the GEIS.
    The GEIS also addresses the no-action alternative. Under this 
alternative, NRC would deny the applicant's or licensee's request for a 
new ISL facility. As a result, the license applicant may choose to 
resubmit the application to use an alternate uranium recovery method or 
decide to obtain the yellowcake from other sources. A licensee whose 
license renewal application is denied would have to commence shutting 
down operations in a timely manner. Denials of license amendments would 
require the licensee to continue operating under its previously 
approved license conditions. The no-action alternative serves as a 
baseline for comparison of the potential environmental impacts.
    Conventional mining/milling and the heap leach process are two 
other methods of uranium recovery. However, inasmuch as the suitability 
and practicality of using these alternative milling methodologies 
depends upon site-specific conditions, a generic discussion of 
potential environmental impacts associated with these methodologies in 
the GEIS is not appropriate. Accordingly, the GEIS does not contain a 
detailed analysis of alternative milling methodologies to the ISL 
process. A detailed analysis of reasonable alternative milling 
methodologies that can be applied at a specific site will be addressed 
in the NRC's site-specific environmental review for individual ISL 
license applications.
    The GEIS is structured in the following manner. The NRC staff began 
by identifying four uranium milling regions in the western U.S. to use 
as a framework for discussions in the document. Two regions are found 
in Wyoming, one in New Mexico, and a final region encompasses portions 
of Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
    Next, the GEIS provides a description of the ISL process and 
addresses the construction, operation, aquifer restoration, and 
decommissioning activities for an ISL facility. Financial assurance is 
also discussed, whereby the ISL licensee or applicant establishes a 
bond or other financial mechanism prior to operations to ensure that 
sufficient funds are available to complete aquifer restoration, 
decommissioning, and reclamation activities for the site.
    Then, the GEIS describes the affected environment in each uranium 
milling region, using the environmental resource areas and topics 
identified through public scoping comments on the GEIS and from NRC 
guidance to its staff found in NUREG-1748, ``Environmental Review 
Guidance for Licensing Actions Associated With NMSS Programs,'' issued 
by NRC in 2003.
    Finally, the GEIS provides an evaluation of the potential 
environmental impacts of constructing, operating, aquifer restoration, 
and decommissioning at an ISL facility in each of the four uranium 
milling regions. Impacts are examined for the following resource areas:
 Land use
 Geology and soils
 Water resources
 Air Quality
 Historical and cultural resources
 Visual and scenic resources
 Public and occupational health
    Following the discussion of potential environmental impacts, the 
GEIS addresses cumulative impacts; environmental justice; practices, 
measures, and actions to mitigate potential impacts; environmental 
monitoring activities; and the consultation process with Federal and 
tribal entities.
    To document its review of the potential environmental impacts for a 
new ISL facility, NRC will prepare an SEIS. NRC's decision to prepare 
an SEIS is a change to its previously stated position (72 FR 54947; 
September 27, 2007) that allowed for the possibility of NRC preparing 
an EA on a new ISL license application. NRC's decision to prepare an 
SEIS will more clearly meet the requirement for completing an EIS for 
new ISL facilities and considers public comments received on the draft 
GEIS. The NRC will follow the public participation procedures outlined 
in 10 CFR part 51, which can include requests for public input on the 
scope of the SEIS and requires public comment on the draft SEIS.
    For applications to renew or amend existing ISL licenses, NRC will 
conduct an environmental review, consistent with the provisions in 10 
CFR part 51. This review may be an EA, SEIS, or an EIS. The NRC 
previously stated in the Federal Register on September 27, 2007 (72 FR 
54947) that all draft EAs prepared for ISL facility license 
applications would be available for public comment. This statement was 
made in anticipation that NRC would be preparing EAs for applications 
for new ISL facilities. As noted, based on public comments NRC received 
on the draft GEIS, NRC has decided to prepare an SEIS for new license 
applications. The NRC will follow the public participation procedures 
outlined in 10 CFR part 51, which require public comment on the draft 
SEIS. The NRC may make a draft EA and accompanying Finding of No 
Significant Impact (FONSI) available for public comment. The decision 
to submit a draft EA for public comment would take into account the 
provisions in 10 CFR 51.33 concerning the similarity of the proposed 
actions to actions normally requiring preparation of an EIS and the 
precedent setting nature of the proposed action. Additionally, the NRC 
may consider the level of public interest and the contentious nature of 
the proposed action in determining whether to publish a draft EA/FONSI 
for public comment. The NRC staff would address public comments 
received on the draft EA/FONSI in the staff's final environmental 
review document. This approach is consistent with NRC regulations.

    Dated at Rockville, Maryland, this 29th\\ day of May 2009.

    For The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Patrice M. Bubar,
Deputy Director, Environmental Protection and Performance Assessment 
Directorate, Division of Waste Management and Environmental Protection, 
Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management 
[FR Doc. E9-13027 Filed 6-4-09; 8:45 am]