EPA Withdraws 2017 Proposed Rule Addressing Health and Groundwater Protection Standards for Uranium In Situ Recovery

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has withdrawn its proposed rule addressing health and environmental protection standards under the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978 (UMTRCA).

The rule would have applied to byproduct materials produced by uranium in situ recovery (ISR) and would have subsequently been implemented by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its Agreement States.

The proposed rule published on January 19, 2017 (82 FR 7400), entitled “Health and Environmental Protection Standards for Uranium and Thorium Mill Tailings,” was withdrawn as of October 30, 2018. The EPA withdrew the proposed rule because:

The EPA, informed in part by feedback received on the proposal, has serious questions as to whether the proposed rule as written is within the EPA’s authority under UMTRCA

The EPA no longer believes national rulemaking to promulgate standards is currently necessary; the EPA believes the existing regulatory structures are sufficient to ensure the targeted protection of public health and the environment at existing ISR facilities

Present market circumstances suggest the influx of new ISR license applications that was once anticipated and was an underlying motive for the proposal is not likely to materialize.

In the 2015 proposal, the EPA stated, “We believe that ISR-specific standards are necessary because uranium in-situ [sic] recovery operations are very different from conventional uranium mills and the existing standards do not adequately address their unique aspects.

“In particular, we believe it is necessary to take a longer view of groundwater protection than has been typical of current ISR industry practices. Although the presence of significant uranium deposits typically diminishes groundwater quality, current industry practices for restoration and monitoring of the affected aquifer may not be adequate to prevent either the further degradation of water quality or the more widespread contamination of groundwater that is suitable for human consumption.”

In considering these factors, as well as the presence of an existing program the NRC (the implementing agency) believes is sufficient, and the lack of expected growth and status of the industry, the EPA stated it believes envisioned public health and environmental benefits of the proposed rulemaking are limited and do not warrant EPA proceeding with the proposed rulemaking.