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Crow Butte uranium mine

A view of Cameco's uranium mining site at Crow Butte  near Crawford. 

The Crow Butte uranium mine in the Nebraska Panhandle is running out of ore, and the company that runs it wants to open up to three expansion mines to keep its processing plant there running.

Applications for the expansion sites near Crawford are under review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Cameco America spokesman Ken Vaughn, who is based in Wyoming, said the company hopes to make significant progress in the federal regulatory process this year toward opening one of the new mines, called the Marsland expansion.

When it would actually come online depends on both regulatory and market factors, he said.

“At present the market for uranium is fairly depressed. We’re confident in the long term, but the exact timing of when the Marsland project would be developed will depend on those two factors -- the approval and the market,” Vaughn said.

Nancy Kile, a Crawford area resident who opposes continued uranium mining in the area, traveled across the state this week to ask the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to take an official stance against the planned expansion.

Kile said the mine endangers area water and ecotourism. Fort Robinson State Park, which boasts 22,000 acres and is the site of a historic military outpost, is just west of the mine.

The Game and Parks Commission said it would consider her comments.

Vaughn said the facility has never polluted a neighboring well nor downstream river. There are 375 monitoring wells at the site.

Cameco began commercial operation of the Crow Butte mine in 1991 and employs about 40 people at the facility.

While the mine's life still extends for years, its productivity is steadily dropping, Vaughn said.

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Cameco produces uranium concentrate at the Nebraska site, which is then sent to other facilities to be turned into nuclear fuel.

Cameco mines the uranium through a process where a solution is injected into the ground, dissolving the ore. The liquid is then pumped to the surface and processed.

Crow Butte’s permit covers an area of about 2,800 acres, of which 2,000 acres involve mining activity.

The Marsland expansion includes an additional 4,600 acres, of which 1,750 acres would be included in mining activity.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7304 or nbergin@journalstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ljsbergin.

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