Thursday, April 30, 2009

Uranium Subcommittee to Meet May 21

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 9:30 AM EDT

The Virginia Coal and Energy Commission subcommittee studying the dangers and benefits of uranium mining will meet Thursday, May 21, in Richmond.

The meeting, which is open to the public, will begin at 2:30 p.m. in House Room D, said Del. Lee Ware of Powhatan, chairman of the Uranium Mining Subcommittee.

Dr. Michael Karmis will present the National Academy of Science's recommendations for the final scope of the study.

Karmis is 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.

He presented the proposed study draft to the subcommittee in March after reviewing information from two earlier public hearings, including one in Chatham.

The National Academy of Science is expected to present its recommendations by May 4.

"Accordingly, these recommendations will be made available for review on the Coal and Energy Commission's Web site well in advance of the meeting," Ware said.

The May 21 meeting also will include time for public comment, the chairman said.

At the subcommittee's last meeting, members voted unanimously to proceed with a tentative draft of the study's objectives.

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

In addition to Ware, members of the subcommittee 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 consider uranium supply and demand trends and projections, worldwide uranium deposits and operations, and uranium mining, milling and processing technologies.

It also will take into account occupational and public health and safety, environmental considerations, social and economic impacts, and security standards and procedures.

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