Saturday, March 28, 2009

Uranium Mining Study Draft OK’d; Tentative Draft Headed To NRC

The Virginia Coal and Energy Commission’s Uranium Mining Subcommittee on Tuesday approved the tentative uranium study draft, described as a working document on the technical aspects.

Dr. Michael Karmis, director of the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech, is to enter into preliminary discussions with the National Research Council.

How long the study will take and its funding are among outstanding questions.

Before uranium can be mined in Virginia, the General Assembly would have to lift the state’s moratorium established in 1982.

In the early 1980s, a large uranium deposit with an estimated worth of between $7-$10 billion was discovered near Chatham. Virginia Uranium seeks to mine the uranium deposits located on land owned by the Walter Coles and Henry Bowen families.

The Tuesday meeting was open for public comment with over two dozen names listed.

Katie Whitehead, chair of the Dan River Basin Association Mining Task Force and a member of the Halifax Chamber Uranium Study Group, cited two important questions during the Tuesday meeting.

“Previously Nancy Pool of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce submitted a report that includes questions we believe a study should address,” said Whitehead, naming the following:

• Is it safe to mine and mill uranium and storage the tailings in Virginia?

• Whether or not it is safe, how do people’s perceptions of uranium mining affect the region?

“Local interest in a study focuses on these two questions,” said Whitehead. “The central study question is whether mining, milling, and tailings storage pose a risk of increasing exposures to uranium and its decay products above current background levels,” she added.

“The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) may not be able to answer this question by reviewing scientific studies,” Whitehead noted. “Dr. Doug Brugge, a public health expert, has commented that the necessary research has not been done to determine the health risks of exposure to heavy metals from living near uranium operations. Preliminary results from new studies are reinforcing health concerns,” she added.

“In the past, committee officials have estimated such a study could take up to two years,” noted Delegate Lee Ware Jr., R-Powhatan, and chairman of the subcommittee, earlier this month.

“Dr. Karmis would be our agent on that score,” Ware previously explained. “Part of his role is to interact with the academy and see that the questions we want answered are covered.”

In November, the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission approved a study to determine whether uranium can be safely mined and milled in the state.

The subcommittee held a public hearing in Richmond in December and at Chatham High School in January to receive questions from area residents concerning the scope of study.

In addition to Ware, subcommittee 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 citizen appointee Harry D. Childress.

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