Thursday, March 26, 2009

Subcommittee Reviews Proposed Uranium Study Draft

When the first several inches of a list of study goals, like the one below, cover nothing pertinent to safety, then it's crystal clear that safety is not a primary goal of the study. When that list starts out with economics, then that's the primary focus of the study. This is just so very wrong. ...SB

By TIM DAVIS/Star-Tribune Editor
Wednesday, March 25, 2009 9:26 AM EDT

The Virginia Coal and Energy Commission subcommittee studying the dangers and benefits of uranium mining voted unanimously Tuesday to proceed with a tentative draft of the study's objectives.

Dr. Michael Karmis, a professor in the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering and director of the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, presented the proposed study draft to the Uranium Mining Subcommittee in Richmond.

Karmis has been reviewing information from two earlier public hearings, including one in Chatham, and will work with the National Academy of Sciences before presenting a final draft of the study to the subcommittee in 30 to 60 days.

"This tentative scope is a framework for a comprehensive study," said Del. Don Merricks, who traveled to the state capital Tuesday to speak to the subcommittee. "By design it's broad to allow the subcommittee to expand it if they need to. At least it gives them a starting point."

Del. Danny Marshall of Danville and Sen. Robert Hurt of Chatham also addressed the subcommittee.

"I'm pleased with what's been done so far," said Marshall. "I think the questions they have brought forth are good. My questions now are what do we do next and what's the time line."

Marshall also believes it's important to look at the safety of uranium mining first, a point made by subcommittee member Del. William R. Janis of Glen Allen.

"He hit the nail on the head," said Marshall. "It's about the safety of our citizens. Whether uranium is selling for $1 or $1,000 an ounce doesn't make any difference."

Hurt described the study draft as a "working document" and said the subcommittee still wants input from citizens.

Once approved, the study is expected to take about two years.

Merricks said questions remain about who will pay for the study, which could cost $1 million.

The subcommittee meeting was open to the public, and residents were given time to speak.

Katie Whitehead, chairman of the Dan River Basin Association Mining Task Force, said the study should first answer the basic question of whether it is safe to live near uranium mining and milling.

"We should ask the National Academy of Sciences upfront to consider the health issue," she said. "If the necessary epidemiological studies have not been done, we don't need to get into the technical aspects of mining engineering and the global market for uranium. We should not be lured by potential benefits if we do not have sound scientific evidence to evaluate potential risks."

Whitehead also is a member of the Halifax Chamber Uranium Study Group, which produced a lengthy and detailed report on uranium mining that was presented to the subcommittee.

She warned that the National Academy of Sciences may not be able to determine whether uranium mining is safe by reviewing scientific studies because the necessary research has not been done to determine the health risks of exposure to heavy metals from living near uranium operations.

Del. Lee Ware of Powhatan is the subcommittee's chairman. Members include Del. Watkins Abbitt of Appomattox, Sen. John Watkins of Midlothian, Del. William R. Janis of Glen Allen, Del. Charles W. Carrico Sr. of Galax, Sen. Phillip P. Puckett of Tazewell, Del. Clarence E. Phillips of Castlewood, Del. Kristen J. Amundson of Fairfax County, Sen. Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach and Harry D. Childress.

Childress, a citizen member on the Coal and Energy Commission, is the former head of the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.

Abbitt was a member of the original commission that studied uranium mining in the 1980s.

The commission's chairman, Del. Terry Kilgore of Scott County, also serves on the subcommittee as an ex-officio member.

Pittsylvania County is home to one of the largest uranium deposits in the United States.

The Coles Hill uranium deposit, about six miles northeast of Chatham, was discovered in the early 1980s.

In 2007, the Coles and Bowen families, who own the ore, formed Virginia Uranium Inc. in hopes of mining the uranium, which at that time was worth between $8 billion and $10 billion.

Before the deposit can be mined, however, the General Assembly would have to lift Virginia's moratorium on uranium mining, which has been in place since 1982.

The Uranium Mining Subcommittee held a public hearing at Chatham High School in early January to receive input on the study. More than 400 people attended the meeting.

The study objectives are "to assess the scientific and technical aspects of uranium mining, milling and processing in Virginia and associated environmental, human health, safety and regulatory issues."

According to the draft, the study will review:

Uranium supply and demand trends and projections

_ Global, national and state

_ Short-term and long-term trends

_ Costs, prices and markets

Worldwide uranium deposits and operations

_ Deposit characteristics and locations (geology, climate, etc.)

_ Operation characteristics

_ Costs and markets

_ Best practices

_ Current issues and concerns

Uranium deposits in Virginia

_ Occurrence

_ Geologic, environmental, cultural, climatic and geographic settings

_ Physical and chemical characteristics

_ Status of current exploration

_ Available baseline data

_ Economic feasibility

_ Comparison of potential uranium operations in Virginia with global deposits and practices

Uranium mining, milling

and processing technologies

_ Review of current technologies and potential new technologies

_ Application of technologies/practices to Virginia deposits

_ Problems and issues

_ Available information

_ Knowledge gaps and areas for research

In addition, the study will assess:

Occupational and

public health and safety

_ Radiological hazards and risks

_ Occupational health and safety concerns

_ Considerations for local communities

_ Short- and long-term considerations

Security standards

and procedures

_ Hazardous materials management

_ Personnel safety

_ Material control and accountability

_ Transportation security

_ Information security

_ Site security

Environmental considerations

_ Potential impacts on air and land

_ Ground and surface water impacts and protection

_ Water management, including net consumption/recycling

_ Waste management, including overburden, waste rock and tailings

_ Ecosystem effects

_ Other environmental health issues

_ Risk modeling and impacts of severe weather effects

_ Noise, aesthetics, traffic and other local considerations

Closure and post-mining land use and monitoring

_ Mine site monitoring

_ Monitoring of tailings and other waste

_ Monitoring of local groundwater and surface waters

_ Site reclamation

_ Long-term land use impacts and restrictions

_ Off-site ecological monitoring

_ Post-closure financial responsibility and liabilities

Regulatory considerations

and public outreach in Virginia

_ Health and safety regulations

_ Environmental and mining laws and regulations

_ Inspection and enforcement

_ Community right-to-know and emergency planning

_ Education and outreach

According to the draft, the study will also look at the socio-economic impacts of uranium mining in Virginia.

The study objectives will be "to address site- and region-specific social, economic and environment impacts and sustainability factors such as quality of life, infrastructure, local economic opportunities and property and real estate values."

Study components will include:

Social impacts

_ Aesthetics and overall quality of life issues

_ Availability of and impacts on social infrastructure (police, fire, roads, schools etc.)

_ Effects on local population and commercial activity

_ Effects on internal and external image of the region

_ Marketability of the region for other industry and population

_ Fear of potential health and environmental effects

_ Short- vs. long-term effects and community sustainability

_ Educational opportunities

Economic impacts

_ Job creation and local income effects

_ Infrastructure development

_ Effects of changes in income and local economic activity

_ Tax revenues over life of mine and beyond

_ Impacts on government expenditures

_ Overall economic development effects, parallel and support businesses, etc.

_ Property values vs. distance from mine or processing facility

_ Impacts on real estate values in the area and on local communities

_ Long-term economic sustainability

Environmental impacts

_ Integration with the technical study (i.e. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

_ Environmental impacts on social and economic factors

_ Monitoring during operations/closure

Comment from a Reader:

Mike Roberts wrote on Mar 25, 2009 12:48 PM:

" Dont even let this study begin. Dont waste any time or money, scrap it now before it even gets off the ground. Its just not worth the worry. The residents of Pittsylvania County will stand together against this in every way to win on this issue and we will win. Uranium mining causes deaths and long-term environmental hazards. I dont care how safe they are mining it. Wake up people, we don't need any more weapons of mass destruction like contaminated water, cancer, and everything thing that goes along with it. Families of Pittsylvania County doesnt need to be made guinea pigs to prolonged exposure to various radionuclides in dust and water that is caused by this unneeded uranium mining. We have plenty of natural gas in this area to provide every home for the next hundred years. Who ever does this scientific engineering study will not let you know the full extent or the warnings, dangers and long term outcome of mining this dangerous product? The mining companies will tell how safe it is and the Government if it chooses, it can refuse to protect or warn against dangers it could bring. The land owners want it mined because they want the money it brings. No matter where we live these same people never change over generations they come around wanting something out of our land sometime with promises of jobs and economic strength. No matter what assurances are given, or what scientific common sense of the time tells us, think of the pass similar situations that have been the cause to kill thousands of people. Im a small land owner and have built my retirement home less then ten miles from the mining area and I want, and so does the people of Pittsylvania County to live in a safe environment worry free of any future exposure to any radioactive remnants in our air or water supply. We all need to wake up on this matter and all stand against this un-needed uranium mining. We have plenty other means of natural safe energy sources. Keep this stuff in the ground were it belongs. Give the people of Pittsylvania County the million thats going to be wasted on the study. "

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