Environment & Safety
The Smith Ranch-Highland operation has an excellent safety record. The operation has systematic programs to identify, document and address risks and engage all workers and managers in development of a strong safety culture. These programs meet the international OHSAS 18001 and have delivered excellent safety performance.
Radiation risks are effectively managed at Smith Ranch-Highland through a formal radiation protection program and dedicated personnel to ensure that doses to workers are as low as reasonably achievable. The program ensures that radiation protection is considered in the physical design of all facilities and operating procedures. It also provides for systematic monitoring of radiation in work areas and tracking the exposures of individual workers using a combination of monitoring devices and health testing. Radiation exposures at Smith Ranch-Highland are far below the regulated limits.
Environmental protection at Smith Ranch-Highland is assured through an ISO 14001-certified environmental management system. The system provides for systematic identification and mitigation of environmental risks and reduction and effective management of waste. The Smith Ranch-Highland operation uses the in situ recovery (ISR) mining method which produces no tailings or waste rock and involves minimal surface disturbance. Uranium is extracted from underground by pumping native groundwater mixed with small amounts of oxygen and bicarbonate (baking soda) into the ore zone. The uranium is freed from a sandstone formation and pumped to the surface for processing.
The in situ recovery (ISR) mining method employed at Smith Ranch-Highland produces no tailings or waste rock. About 95% of the water used in the process is recycled. Surplus water is returned underground through a deep disposal well or evaporated from lined ponds on the surface. Residue from the evaporation ponds and other waste materials such as plastic piping is transported off site for disposal or recycling.
Monitor wells are installed to allow testing of groundwater quality above, below and around the target zones to ensure fluids do not move outside those areas. Smith Ranch-Highland has more than 800 monitor wells that are tested at least every two weeks. Every year, about 20,000 water samples are analyzed to ensure any potential issues are kept on the mine site. More than 25 years of regular testing of surface waters by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has detected no contaminants in the environment downstream from the Smith Ranch-Highland operation.
Detailed plans and financial guarantees are in place to provide for decommissioning of the Smith Ranch-Highland mine. Once operations are complete in a wellfield, groundwater is restored to meet regulatory standards. Once regulators confirm that the groundwater has been restored, all piping and other infrastructure is removed, all wells are sealed, and surface lands are restored to their original state.
All new mining developments and significant changes to existing operations are subject to environmental assessments to identify potential effects on the environment.
Smith Ranch-Highland is licensed and regulated by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The operation also is subject to other federal and state regulations for the protection of people and the environment, including the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) and by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Federal and state regulators conduct regular site inspections and audits to verify that people and the environment are protected. The Smith Ranch-Highland operation undergoes regular review and renewal of its operating permits and licences.