March 16, 2011 / 1:22 AM / 8 years ago

South Dakota eases state uranium mining rules

PIERRE (Reuters) - The governor of South Dakota on Tuesday signed into law a bill to ease oversight of a proposed uranium mine near a popular tourist destination despite protests from environmental groups.

The measure signed by Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard will suspend state regulation of an operation near the Black Hills that will engage in so-called “in-situ leach uranium mining.”

The technique, which is also employed in copper mining, uses fortified water to dissolve the uranium underground and then to carry it to the surface, where the metal is removed from the liquid through a process called ion exchange.

Powertech, the Canadian company that hopes to mine the 18,000-acre uranium field located southwest of Rapid City, argued that the state rules duplicated rules the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Nuclear Regulatory Commission enforce.

Opponents of the easing, including the Sierra Club and members of the Oglala Sioux Indian tribe, contended the in-situ technique could result in groundwater contamination and wanted the extra oversight that state regulation would provide.

Reporting by Michael Avok; writing by James B. Kelleher

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