Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Uranium Mining Subcommittee to Meet March 24 in Richmond

By TIM DAVIS/Star-Tribune Editor
Wednesday, March 4, 2009 8:45 AM EST

The Virginia Coal and Energy Commission subcommittee studying the dangers and benefits of uranium mining will meet Tuesday, March 24, in Richmond.

The Uranium Mining Subcommittee meeting, which is open to the public, will begin at 2 p.m. in House Room D in the General Assembly Building.

The group's chairman, Del. Lee Ware Jr. of Powhatan, said the subcommittee expects to hear from 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.

Karmis has been reviewing information from two earlier public hearings , including one in Chatham, and is expected to present his recommendations on the scope of the study.

According to Ware, Karmis will work directly with the National Academy of Sciences or a similar independent group on the study, which is expected to take about two years.

The chairman also said the subcommittee will receive input from other members on the proposed uranium mining study.

The subcommittee also includes 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 what is believed to be 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.

Two years ago, Walter Coles, who owns a majority of the ore, formed Virginia Uranium Inc. in hopes of mining the uranium, which is 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.

Ware said the study will include a comprehensive look at the scientific, environmental and economic impact of uranium mining.

"Its our intention to cast a wide net and find out as much as we can so we can make an informed decision," he said.

The chairman said the March 24 meeting will include a public comment period.

"Although we've heard from people, we certainly want to continue to have an open process," he said.

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