[Federal Register Volume 74, Number 237 (Friday, December 11, 2009)]
[Notices]
[Pages 65808-65810]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E9-29550]


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NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION

[NRC-2008-0339]


Notice of Availability of Draft Environmental Impact Statement 
for the Nichols Ranch In-Situ Recovery (ISR) Project in Campbell and 
Johnson Counties, WY; Supplement to the Generic Environmental Impact 
Statement for In-Situ Leach Uranium Milling Facilities

AGENCY: Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

ACTION: Notice of availability.

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SUMMARY: Notice is hereby given that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory 
Commission (NRC) is issuing for public comment a Draft Supplemental 
Environmental Impact Statement for the Nichols Ranch In-Situ Recovery 
(ISR) Project. By letter dated November 30, 2007, Uranerz Energy 
Corporation (Uranerz), submitted an application to the NRC for a new 
source material license for the Nichols Ranch ISR Project, which 
Uranerz proposes to be located in the Powder River Basin in Campbell 
and Johnson Counties, Wyoming. Uranerz is proposing to recover uranium 
from the Nichols Ranch ISR Project site using the in-situ leach (also 
know as the in-situ recovery (ISR)) process.
    The Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended by the Uranium Mill 
Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978, authorizes the NRC to issue 
licenses for the possession and use of source material and byproduct 
material. These statutes require that NRC license facilities, including 
ISR operations, in accordance with NRC regulatory requirements to 
protect public health and safety from radiological hazards. Under the 
NRC's environmental protection regulations in the Code of Federal 
Regulations, Title 10, Part 51 (10 CFR part 51), that implement the 
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), preparation of an 
environmental impact statement (EIS) or supplement to an EIS (SEIS) is 
required for issuance of a license to possess and use source material 
for uranium milling (see 10 CFR 51.20(b)(8)).
    In June 2009, the NRC staff issued NUREG-1910, ``Generic 
Environmental Impact Statement for In-Situ Leach Uranium Milling 
Facilities'' (herein referred to as the GEIS). In the GEIS, NRC 
assessed the potential environmental impacts from the construction, 
operation, aquifer restoration, and decommissioning of an ISR facility 
located in four specific geographic regions of the western United 
States. The proposed Nichols Ranch ISR Project is located within the 
Wyoming East Uranium Milling Region identified in the GEIS. The Nichols 
Ranch ISR Project Draft SEIS both supplements and incorporates by 
reference relevant portions of the GEIS and uses site specific 
information from the applicant's license application and other 
independent sources to fulfill the requirements in 10 CFR 51.20(b)(8).

DATES: The public comment period on the Draft SEIS begins with 
publication of this notice and continues until February 01, 2010. 
Written comments should be submitted as described in the ADDRESSES 
section of this notice. The NRC will consider comments received or 
postmarked after that date to the extent practical.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by any one of the following methods. 
Please include Docket ID NRC-2008-0339 in the subject line of your 
comments. Comments submitted in writing or in electronic form will be 
posted on the NRC Web site and on the Federal rulemaking Web site 
http://www.regulations.gov. Because your comments will not be edited to 
remove any identifying or contact information, the NRC cautions you 
against including any information in your submission that you do not 
want to be publicly disclosed.
    The NRC requests that any party soliciting or aggregating comments 
received from other persons for submission to the NRC inform those 
persons that the NRC will not edit their comments to remove any 
identifying or contact information, and therefore, they should not 
include any information in their comments that they do not want 
publicly disclosed.
    Federal Rulemaking Web site: Go to http://www.regulations.gov and 
search for documents filed under Docket ID NRC-2008-0339. Comments may 
be submitted electronically through this Web site. Address questions 
about NRC dockets to Carol Gallagher at 301-492-

[[Page 65809]]

3668, or e-mail at Carol.Gallagher@nrc.gov.
    Mail comments to: Michael T. Lesar, Chief, Rulemaking and 
Directives Branch (RDB), Division of Administrative Services, Office of 
Administration, Mail Stop: TWB-05-B01M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory 
Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001, or by fax to RDB at (301) 492-
3446. You may also send comments electronically to 
NicholsRanchISRSEIS@nrc.gov.
    Publicly available documents related to this notice can be accessed 
using the following methods:
    NRC's Public Document Room (PDR): The public may examine and have 
copied, for a fee, publicly available documents at the NRC's PDR, 
Public File Area O1 F21, One White Flint North, 11555 Rockville Pike, 
Rockville, Maryland.
    NRC's Agencywide Documents Access and Management System (ADAMS): 
Publicly available documents created or received at the NRC are 
available electronically at the NRC's Electronic Reading Room at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/adams.html. From this page, the public can gain 
entry into ADAMS, which provides text and image files of NRC's public 
documents. If you do not have access to ADAMS or if there are problems 
in accessing the documents located in ADAMS, contact the NRC's PDR 
reference staff at 1-800-397-4209, 301-415-4737, or by e-mail to 
Pdr.Resource@nrc.gov. The ``Environmental Impact Statement for the 
Nichols Ranch ISR Project in Campbell and Johnson Counties, Wyoming--
Supplement to the Generic Environmental Impact Statement for In-Situ 
Leach Uranium Milling Facilities'' is available electronically under 
ADAMS Accession Number ML093340536.
    The Draft SEIS for the Nichols Ranch ISR Project also may be 
accessed on the internet at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/ by selecting ``NUREG-1910.'' The Draft SEIS 
will be Supplement 2 to NUREG-1910. Additionally, a copy of the Draft 
SEIS will be available at the following public libraries:

Campbell County Public Library, 2101 South 4J Road, Gillette, Wyoming 
82718, 307-687-0009.
Johnson County Library, 171 North Adams Avenue, Buffalo, Wyoming 82834, 
307-684-5546.

    Federal Rulemaking Web site: Public comments and supporting 
materials related to this notice can be found at http://www.regulations.gov by searching on Docket ID: NRC-2008-0339.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For information on environmental 
review process related to the Draft SEIS for the Nichols Ranch ISR 
Project, please contact Irene Yu, Project Manager, Environmental Review 
Branch, Division of Waste Management and Environmental Protection 
(DWMEP), Mail Stop T-8F5, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 
Washington, DC, 20555-0001, by phone at 1 (800) 368-5642, extension 
1951. For general or technical information associated with the safety 
and licensing of uranium milling facilities, please contact Stephen 
Cohen, Team Lead, Uranium Recovery Licensing Branch, DWMEP, Mail Stop 
T-8F5, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-
0001, by phone at 1 (800) 368-5642, extension 7182.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Atomic Energy Act, as amended by the 
Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978, authorizes NRC to 
issue licenses for the possession and use of source material and 
byproduct material. These statutes require that NRC license facilities, 
including ISR operations, in accordance with NRC regulatory 
requirements to protect public health and safety from radiological 
hazards. In-situ uranium recovery facilities must meet NRC regulatory 
requirements in order to obtain this license to operate. Under the 
NRC's environmental protection regulations in 10 CFR part 51.21(b)(8), 
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), issued the GEIS in June 2009. The GEIS was prepared to 
assess the potential environmental impacts associated with the 
construction, operation, aquifer restoration, and decommissioning of an 
ISR facility in four specific geographic areas of the western United 
States. The proposed Nichols Ranch ISR Project is located in one such 
region, the Wyoming East Uranium Milling Region. The GEIS evaluated the 
range of potential impacts in the four geographic regions and evaluated 
whether the potential impact would be essentially the same for all ISR 
facilities or whether site-specific information and analysis would be 
required to determine the potential impacts. As such, the GEIS provides 
a starting point for the NRC's NEPA analyses for site-specific license 
applications for new ISR facilities, as well as for applications to 
renew or amend existing ISR licenses.
    By letter dated November 30, 2007, Uranerz submitted an application 
to the NRC for a new source material license for the Nichols Ranch ISR 
Project, which Uranerz proposes to be located in Campbell and Johnson 
Counties, Wyoming, approximately 46 miles south-southwest of Gillette, 
Wyoming and approximately 61 miles north-northeast of Casper, Wyoming. 
Planned facilities associated with the proposed Nichols Ranch ISR 
Project include a central processing plant, satellite facility, 
accompanying well fields with injection, production, and monitoring 
wells, header houses, pipelines, and access roads. The total land 
surface ownership of the proposed Nichols Ranch ISR Project is 
approximately 3,371 acres, of which 3,091 acres are privately owned and 
280 acres are U.S. Government-owned and administered by the U.S. 
Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The proposed 
Nichols Ranch ISR Project would be divided into two noncontiguous 
units, the Nichols Ranch Unit and the Hank Unit. Because a portion of 
the proposed Nichols Ranch ISR Project site is administered by the BLM, 
the NRC coordinated its environmental review with the BLM to promote 
efficiencies in each agency's environmental review. This coordination 
was undertaken in tandem with developing a memorandum of understanding 
(MOU) with the BLM that establishes a cooperating agency status between 
the agencies. The MOU was finalized on November 30, 2009, and NRC plans 
to use it in the review of applications that are in their early stages 
in order to effectively integrate BLM as a cooperating agency into the 
review of future applications.
    ISR facilities recover uranium from low grade ores that may not be 
economically recoverable by other methods. In the ISR process, a 
leaching agent (called a lixiviant), such as oxygen and sodium 
bicarbonate, is added to native groundwater for injection through wells 
into the subsurface ore body to dissolve the uranium. Before ISR 
operations can begin, the portion of the aquifer designated for uranium 
recovery must be exempted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 
(EPA) from being an underground source of drinking water in accordance 
with the Safe Drinking Water Act (as implemented by EPA at 40 CFR 
146.4). The injected solution, now containing the dissolved uranium, is 
pumped back (i.e. recovered) to the surface and sent to a processing 
plant, where ion

[[Page 65810]]

exchange is used to separate the uranium from the solution. The ISR 
process also frees other metals and minerals from the host aquifer. As 
a result, operators of ISR facilities are required to restore the 
groundwater affected by operations and to decommission the facility 
when operations have ceased. In the processing plant, the recovered 
uranium is concentrated into the product known as ``yellowcake,'' which 
is then shipped to a uranium conversion facility for further processing 
in the overall uranium fuel cycle.
    In this Draft SEIS, the NRC staff has assessed the potential 
environmental impacts from the construction, operation, aquifer 
restoration, and decommissioning of the proposed Nichols Ranch ISR 
Project. In doing so, the NRC staff evaluated site-specific data and 
information from the Nichols Ranch ISR Project to determine if 
Uranerz's proposed activities and the site characteristics were 
consistent with those evaluated in the GEIS. NRC then determined which 
relevant sections of the Draft GEIS and impact conclusions in the Draft 
GEIS could be incorporated by reference. The NRC staff also determined 
if additional data or analysis was needed to determine the 
environmental impacts for a specific environmental resource area. The 
NRC staff documented its assessments and conclusions in the Draft SEIS.
    In addition to the action proposed by Uranerz, the NRC staff 
addressed two alternatives in the Draft SEIS: A No-Action alternative 
and a Modified Action alternative. Under the No-Action alternative, NRC 
would deny Uranerz's request to construct and operate an ISR facility 
at the Nichols Ranch ISR Project. The No-Action alternative serves as a 
baseline for comparison of the potential environmental impacts. Under 
the Modified Action alternative, the NRC would only issue Uranerz a 
license for ISR uranium milling and processing at the Nichols Ranch 
Unit and not the Hank Unit. By doing so, this alternative would only 
consist of extracting uranium from well fields developed in the Nichols 
Ranch Unit and processing at a central processing plant located at the 
Nichols Ranch Unit.
    The NRC staff also considered other alternatives but eliminated 
them from detailed analysis. Conventional mining/milling and 
conventional mining/heap leach processing are two potential methods of 
uranium recovery at the Nichols Ranch ISR Project. However, given the 
recognized more substantial environmental impacts of conventional 
mining (whether by open pit or underground techniques) and conventional 
milling or heap leach processing, these alternatives were not further 
considered. The NRC staff also evaluated alternative lixiviants (acid- 
and ammonia-based), and alternative waste disposal methods. For reasons 
discussed in the Draft SEIS, these alternatives also were eliminated 
from further consideration.
    This Draft SEIS is being issued for public comment. The public 
comment period on the Draft SEIS begins with publication of this notice 
and continues until February 1, 2010. Written comments should be 
submitted as described in the ADDRESSES section of this notice. The NRC 
will consider comments received or postmarked after that date to the 
extent practical.

    Dated at Rockville, Maryland, this 4th day of December 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 
Programs.
[FR Doc. E9-29550 Filed 12-10-09; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 7590-01-P