Saturday, September 29, 2007

One-man 'occupation' of Slim Buttes protests uranium

Forest Service denies runoff sickening residents
By Bill Harlan, Journal staff

Harold One Feather is waging a one-man protest to spur the U.S. Forest Service into a quicker clean-up of an old uranium mine in the Slim Buttes in northwestern South Dakota.

“I’m a true environmentalist,” One Feather quipped in a static-plagued cell phone conversation from his remote campsite. “I’m actually out in the environment.”

One Feather, founder of the new Grand River Environmental Equality Network, said he was "occupying" the Slim Buttes, which are part of Custer National Forest.

One Feather said he had been mostly alone at his campsite since he arrived Sunday, but he is expecting more protesters from Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

The Grand River runs from Custer National Forest through several communities on the Standing Rock reservation, about 60 miles to the east.

One Feather and other Standing Rock residents say runoff from uranium mines may be making people on the reservation sick, though the Forest Service denies that charge.

"The answer to that is a proven 'no,'" Forest Service spokeswoman Laurie Walters-Clark said.

However, the Forest Service is investigating the extent of contamination caused by at least one a small uranium mine in the Slim Buttes. That investigation began last summer and should be complete by the end of this summer, Walters-Clark said. The investigation also includes several small exploration pits.

Walters-Clark is the Forest Service's on-scene coordinator for a $20 million Superfund clean-up of uranium mines set to begin this summer in the nearby Cave Hills, also in Custer National Forest.

A Forest Service study in 2005, and a study released this year by the South Dakota School of Mines &Technology, found higher than normal levels of uranium, molybdenum, arsenic and other metals on federal and private land near the mines.

The studies tested sediment, topsoil, groundwater and air. "Most of the health risks would be from ingesting materials," Walters-Clark said.

The clean-up on federal land in the Cave Hills will include re-grading and re-vegetating some ground. On land with the highest level of contamination, sediment and topsoil will be scraped off and removed to a clay-lined dump, Walters-Clark said.

Private land affected by run-off from federal land also will be cleaned up, Walters-Clark said.

Mines in the North Cave Hills unit of the national forest were operated by Kerr-McGee, now Tronox Inc. of Oklahoma City. Tronox is paying $15 million for the clean-up, which is regulated under the federal Superfund law.

The Forest Service is paying $5 million to clean up the site because original mine owners of the brief 1950s uranium boom are long gone, Walters-Clark said. "There were a lot of mom and pop operations," Walters-Clark said. "There were no responsible parties left."

Tronox expects to complete the Cave Hills cleanup in two or three years, Walters-Clark said.

There also were uranium mines in the South Cave Hills and at least one mine in the Slim Buttes, Walters-Clark said, but those operations were smaller. A clean-up there would be at least two years away.

Walters-Clark said the Forest Service had been studying the problem since the early 1990. "It's simply a long process," she acknowledged. "The Forest Service had to prove there was a hazard."

But Walters-Clark said contamination from uranium mines on the national forest did not threaten the health of people who live on the Grand River, which the state monitors. "There are state laws and regulations, and we're adhering to them," she said.

So far, the Forest Service has been unable to convince One Feather and other members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe that the old uranium mines do not pose a threat to their communities downstream. "There's a lack of trust," Walters-Clark said.

The Forest Service has not responded to One Feather's one-man occupation of the Slim Buttes. "I saw him on the road," Walters-Clark said. "He's not doing anything illegal. He's just using his national forest."

Contact Bill Harlan at 394-8424 or

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

WHAT? NRC's Feels 9-11 tragedy not a threat to NUKE PLANTS NRC: Airplane crash not nuke-plant concern
NRC: Airplane crash not nuke-plant concern
U.S. nuclear regulators approved a new rule to protect plants from terrorist attacks, though anti-nuclear groups say it should have included airplane crashes.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved Monday a final rule for security governing the design basis threat on U.S. nuclear plants.
"This rule is an important piece, but only one piece, of a broader effort to enhance nuclear power plant security," said Dale Klein, chairman of the NRC. "Overall we are taking a multi-faceted approach to security enhancements in this post 9/11 threat environment, and looking at how best to secure existing nuclear power plants and how to incorporate security enhancements into design features of new reactors that may be built in coming years."
The ruling, which the NRC says is the first of many, creates security criteria for new nuclear plants. Future rules may enhance security assessment requirements for new reactors and physical protection of reactors.
But groups have urged the NRC to use the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a model for protecting plants. They criticized the NRC for not requiring protection of a large ground force or large aircraft attack.
"Rather than requiring measures to prevent a plane crash from damaging vulnerable parts of a nuclear plant, which would be the smartest course, the government is relying on post-crash measures and evacuation plans to attempt to 'mitigate' the public's exposure to radiation," Michelle Boyd, legislative director of Public Citizen's energy program, said in a statement.
"Nuclear terrorism prevention is far more prudent than trying to reduce radiation exposures after the fact," she added.
An NRC statement said the commission rejected a "beamhenge" approach -- using steal beams and cables to prevent a plane from reaching a reactor -- and said the ruling "does not require protection against a deliberate hit by a large aircraft."
"The NRC has already required its licensees to take steps to mitigate the effects of large fires and explosions from any type of initiating event. The active protection against airborne threats is addressed by other federal organizations, including the military."

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