Wyoming becomes USA's 38th Agreement State

28 September 2018

Wyoming has become the 38th US state to take responsibility for regulating uranium recovery operations within the state under an agreement signed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

LR Wyoming State Senator Michael Von Flatern, Kristine Svinicki, Matt Mead and Todd Parfitt at the signing ceremony in Cheyenne (Image: Governor of Wyoming)

Wyoming is the USA's leading uranium producing state, and is home to five out of seven facilities producing the mineral in 2017. All of the state's current uranium production is by the in-situ leach (ISL) method.

The agreement, signed on 25 September by Wyoming Governor Matt Mead and NRC Chairman Kristine Svinicki, comes into effect on 30 September and authorises the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to take on the regulatory role formerly filled by the NRC. It is the culmination of over three years of work by the state and the regulator to determine that Wyoming's radiation control programme is adequate to protect public health and safety and is compatible with NRC regulations.

The state will now be responsible for licensing, rulemaking, inspection and enforcement activities needed to regulate source material involved in uranium or thorium milling, and the management and disposal of milling waste. Fourteen uranium recovery licences will now be transferred to Wyoming's jurisdiction.

The NRC retains jurisdiction over any commercial nuclear power plants, of which currently Wyoming has none, federal agencies using certain radioactive materials in the state, and used of radioactive material other than uranium and thorium milling activities.

"Wyoming will regulate uranium using the same high standards set by the NRC," Mead said. “Wyoming DEQ has done a great job ensuring that all the program requirements have been met and will continue to be effectively implemented. I thank the NRC and DEQ for standing this program up quickly and cost efficiently.”

"Wyoming had to develop a programme that would meet the NRC compatibility requirements to become an Agreement State," Kyle Wendtland, the DEQ's Land Quality Division administrator, said. "In order to accomplish this goal, Wyoming had to implement new governing statutes, rules and regulations, guidance, and policies and procedures compatible with NRC's requirements." The programme also had to be staffed with employees that meet the NRC qualifications, such as expertise in health physics, he said.

Wyoming in 2013 completed a feasibility study on becoming an agreement state and formally began the process in February 2015, when Mead signed into law an act authorising it to seek Agreement State status and setting out legal provisions enabling the state to take on regulatory activities. DEQ's completion of the process in just over three-and-a-half years was two years ahead of the original proposed schedule and USD2.5 million under budget, Wendtland said.

Todd Parfitt, DEQ Director, said achieving Agreement State status had been a "cooperative effort" with much of the success in obtaining the agreement ahead of schedule and below budget due to "timely and high-quality responses" from the NRC staff to DEQ.

Wayne Heli, CEO of Peninsula Energy, said the formalisation of Agreement State status was good news for his company, which commenced ISL operations in December 2015 at its Lance Projects in Wyoming and is working to transition the project to low pH operations. By eliminating the duplication of permitting by state and federal agencies, the Agreement State approach will result in a more efficient regulatory processes both for the state of Wyoming and its uranium producers, he said.

Like the NRC, the DEQ will regulate uranium recovery as a 'fee recovery' programme where uranium operators are billed for all permitting and ongoing regulatory costs, but these fees are projected to be significantly less due to lower rates and reduced duplication of efforts, he said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News