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The Associated Press

ROCK SPRINGS, Wyo. (AP) — Wyoming’s uranium industry is burdened by an unrealistic interpretation of water quality rules, an industry official told the Wyoming Energy Commission.

The state Department of Environmental Quality requires uranium mines to improve groundwater used in mining to drinking-water quality, groundwater that is unusable because of naturally occurring radium and radon, said Fletcher Newton, president of Power Resources Inc.

“This water has been like that for millions of years,” he told the commission Thursday. “Because there are no clear criteria for required levels of groundwater restoration, we cannot determine the ultimate cost of groundwater restoration.”

Nebraska developed its criteria based on Wyoming’s but interprets it differently and is easier to work with, he said.

“When my board (of directors) decides which project to pursue, you can understand which way they will go,” Newton said.

He asked the commission to recognize that water associated with uranium mining is not usable and help clarify standards.

“It is a commonsense solution,” he said. “Wyoming has a unique window. If you don’t take advantage of it, it will close. The reserves of uranium in Wyoming are greater than in any other state.”

Current uranium mining is in a confined area, produces no discharge water, uses very little heavy equipment and keeps aquifers intact, thereby leaving the contaminants where they are, he said.

Production water left in the ground is slowly filtered through the soil, he said. The uranium, known as yellowcake, does not emit radioactive particles but is used to enrich nuclear fuel.

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Although the industry has been hurt by declining prices, Wyoming has ranked first in uranium production the last six years, according to the Wyoming State Geological Survey.

Power Resources’ Highland Ranch mine is one of two uranium operations in the state, both in Converse County. Power Resources was acquired by Cameco, a Canadian firm, in 1997.

At the end of 2000, the only other production of yellowcake in the United States was at Crawford, Neb., and Canon City, Colo., the survey said.

Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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