Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Recent Letters to Danville Register & Bee re: Uranium

Some of the letters below refer to Dr. Richard Toohey's Guest Editorial, titled "Understanding Uranium's Benefits...Balancing the Risks" and printed in the Danville R&B (and on on March 8. You can find Dr. Toohey's words here for reference:


March 22, 2009

The local concerns were ignored

To the editor:

When I read, “Understanding the benefits, balancing the risks,” (March 8, page A11), my initial reaction was to not respond to it. As the entire half-page column was based upon and in response to my earlier letter to the editor, “Let’s put uranium mining to a vote,” (Jan. 28, page A10), however, I felt compelled to do so.

The author, Richard Toohey, stated that some of my comments “reveal the need for factual information,” although the majority of his column merely countered my opinions with those of his own. My greatest issue with Toohey’s column is in the manner in which it seems to downplay the potential radiation exposure of uranium mining.

He writes, “What about the radioactivity? It already exists at the site. No extra radioactivity will be put there.”

This implies that the radiation risk is the same wherever the uranium is, whether it be in the ground or on the surface. This is patently untrue, which I’ll support with “factual information.”

Radiation exposure in relation to distance follows the inverse square law, which states that the intensity of radiation exposure is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the radiation source. For example, when the distance from a localized radiation source is doubled, the intensity of the radiation is reduced by a factor of four. If the distance is increased by a factor of 9, the radiation dose is decreased by a factor of 81 (nine squared), and so on. This means that a small increase in the distance from a radioactive source results in a huge decrease in your radiation exposure. The radiation exposure from the uranium deposits resting deep underground is incredibly smaller than if it is mined and brought to the surface at ground level. In addition to creating and maintaining distance, the overlying soil and earth may further reduce radiation exposure due to shielding (by means of absorbing radiation).

Toohey addresses the risks of mining by stating that “for normal operations, there is little or no downside.” I just don’t see how one can claim this in a geographic region such as ours where uranium mining has not been extensively performed. It is my opinion that Toohey downplays the issue of radiation exposure, leading one to wonder if this half-page response to my brief letter was submitted on behalf of or at the request of Virginia Uranium Inc. I doubt that Toohey is a regular reader of the Danville Register & Bee or that he just came upon my letter to the editor by chance.

In regard to his recommended reading of, “Exposure of the Pregnant Patient to Diagnostic Radiations,” I am aware that the amount of radiation related to medical diagnostic studies is in general very low, and more importantly, the dose is unknown.

This cannot be definitely said in relation to uranium mining and milling.

I should add that I am a proponent of nuclear energy. Although it’s not the issue here, I would actually be more in favor of a nuclear power plant in Pittsylvania County compared to the mining of uranium, as I feel it would be safer and give much greater long-term benefit. My position is that the nuclear fuel should be obtained from either a sparsely populated area or one where the citizens understand and accept the potential dangers (informed consent) of the mining.

I would repeat my suggestion that mining in Pittsylvania County be put to a referendum, because it would seem that there is a lot of money behind this issue to push it forward. The only way for the true desire of our citizens to be met is by direct vote. Better yet would be that Virginia’s decades-old moratorium that bans uranium mining should remain intact. I thank you for your interest in having read this opinion.




March 20, 2009

It’s a long, slow process

To the editor:

I’ve read and heard reports that some citizens are upset because there is no one from the immediate area serving on the uranium study group established by the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission. As a native of Pittsylvania County and chief geologist for Virginia Uranium, I would like to offer several observations:

  • The proposed study is but the first step in a process that could take many years;

  • If the independent, science-driven study contains data showing that it is possible to mine uranium safely, then a legislative process will begin in which the merits of lifting the moratorium and writing a regulating statute would be debated with full citizen involvement;

  • If the National Academy of Sciences (or an equivalent credible institution) is commissioned to do the study, their usual practice is to hold hearings in the area where mining may take place to hear the concerns of local people, as well as expressions of support;

  • In the event that regulations are established and the moratorium is lifted, a process would commence in which the various regulatory agencies would conduct many hearings on all aspects of mining; and

  • In the event that all this has taken place, then a permitting process would begin in which the public would have an ample opportunity to express concerns and support.

With these steps in mind, I would also suggest that another good reason for the current structure of the subcommittee is that a greater impartiality of the membership is possible. This is intended as an objective study, and it is likely that any local representative would bring to the table a bias (either pro or con) that would disrupt the intended impartiality.

It’s worth pointing out in this debate that the bill backed by Virginia Uranium last year would have created a legislative uranium study group that called for heavy citizen representation. This bill died in a House subcommittee amid strong protests against the proposed study by the same people who are now asking for local representation.

Therefore, it seems inappropriate to ask the Coal and Energy Commission to disrupt its carefully structured approach. They have come to our region to listen and seek comments from everyone.

It is now time to let the subcommittee proceed with their impartial work so that a science-driven study may lead to a finding that either brings the whole matter to a halt or sets in motion the myriad successive steps that include full and vigorous citizen participation.




Published: March 18, 2009

Uranium isn’t a threat

To the editor:
I have to laugh at what is taking place now with so many (so-called by themselves) smart folks talking about uranium mining. I am nearly 88 years old and in 1961, I started the Danville Rock and Mineral Club. My daughters were 14 and 12 and wanted me to get it done because of our studies.

I contacted Ed Gregson, who was a Dan River Inc. chemist, and he came along with me. My husband and I had Johnny Westbrook and club members go on trips in Virginia and North Carolina. We all handled many specimens of what we collected and haven’t suffered. We learned much about what God made for us. To you who have been living in the proposed mining area, you have experienced radioactive rays all of your life and are not hurt. The half-life breaks down rather quickly and very expensive equipment is needed to identify pitchblende, uraninite or anything else. Silver can be a by-product — or even fertilizer. I am definitely for mining, which we need for the economy.

For another laugh, there is a large vein of platinum underneath the city of Danville, too far down to be mined — but we really are rich. An ordinary X-ray harms you more than you know.




March 16, 2009

That’s part of the larger problem

To the editor:
Richard Toohey, the author of, “Understanding the benefits, balancing the risks,” (March 8, page A11), served to further corrode the public’s confidence that the scientific community can adequately and fairly address health issues regarding uranium mining and milling in the commonwealth of Virginia.


Mount Cross

All letters from

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