US EPA withdraws uranium rule

22 October 2018

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is withdrawing proposed revisions to regulatory standards for tailings from in situ leach (ISL) uranium production.

Wellfield drilling for ISL production at the Ross Permit in Wyoming (Image: Peninsula Energy)

The proposed revisions to Health and Environmental Protection Standards for Uranium and Thorium Mill Tailings (40 CFR 192) were submitted on 19 January 2017, the penultimate day of the administration of President Barack Obama. The proposed standards to regulate byproduct materials produced by uranium ISL activities focused on groundwater protection and restoration.

The EPA cited three reasons for its decision to withdraw the proposed rule: firstly, questions over its legal authority to propose the standards under the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act, following concerns raised by stakeholders including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; secondly, its belief that existing regulatory structures are sufficient to ensure the targeted protection of public health and the environment at existing ISL facilities; and thirdly, because an anticipated "influx" of new ISL licence applications is now not likely to materialise. "Therefore, there is less need for the rule, which was intended to provide a more workable and efficient approach for addressing these expected new applications, compared to existing mechanisms," the agency said.

"In a rush to regulate during the waning hours of the previous administration, the Agency proposed a regulation that would have imposed significant burdens on uranium miners and the communities they support," EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said on 19 October. "Today's action is an important step in rebalancing EPA's role with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's with respect to protecting public health and the environment alongside supporting modern methods of uranium extraction."

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso said the EPA had made the "right" decision. "The Nuclear Regulatory Commission - our nation's principal nuclear regulator - has said there is no health or safety justification for EPA's midnight rule. The NRC has regulated in situ uranium recovery for nearly 40 years. The agency has never found an instance of ground water contamination that would be addressed by this rule. I'm glad the Environmental Protection Agency has acknowledged this reality. I applaud it for withdrawing this punishing and unnecessary regulation on America's uranium producers," he said.

Wheeler signed the Withdrawal of Proposed Rule on 18 October. The withdrawal will become effective the day it is published in the Federal Register, the EPA said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News