Uranium Extraction Water Quality Standards

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Why It Matters

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last updated the health and environmental standards for uranium mining in 1995. Since then, the primary method for extracting uranium has changed to in-situ recovery (ISR): pumping a solution into a deposit to dissolve the uranium, which is then collected when the fluid is pumped back out. This can contaminate groundwater if water containing uranium extraction byproducts flows into nearby aquifers. The proposed new rule updates uranium mining regulations by adding a section tailored to ISR, designed to protect groundwater adjacent to production zones.

Current Status

Comments on the second proposed rule were due on October 16, 2017. A final rule has yet to be announced.

History

On January 26, 2015 EPA published the proposed rule, Health and Environmental Protection Standards for Uranium and Thorium Mill Tailings. The rule would require mine operators to monitor groundwater before, during, and after uranium extraction to aid in preventing and mitigating contamination. This rule proposed 30 years of post-production monitoring and required that operators take corrective action within 90 days of contamination. A comment period was open for the rule until April 27, 2015.

On April 24, 2015 EPA extended the comment period to May 25, 2015.

On January 19, 2017 EPA published a new proposed rule “based on public comment and new information received from stakeholders” about the January, 2015 proposal. Among other changes, the new rule decreased the post-ISR groundwater monitoring requirement to six years after operations stop, reduced the number of contaminants that must be tested for, and increased the time allowed for cleaning up contamination. The comment period for this rule was open until July 18, 2017.

Trump Era

On July 18, 2017 the comment period closed.

On August 2, 2017 EPA reopened the comment period until October 16, 2017.

For More Information

For more information on the history of this rule see SaveEPA’s website 


Thank you to Harvard student Laura Bloomer, JD/MPP 2019 for her assistance with this rule.

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