Thursday, May 14, 2009

Let the Study of Uranium Mining Begin

The News & Advance
Published: May 12, 2009

Nearly everyone agrees that an independent study of the effects of proposed uranium mining in Pittsylvania County is a good step. But not everyone agrees on the study’s framework and the order in which the various aspects of such a mining operation would be covered.

That will be decided later this month. The first step toward the study’s framework has been taken by the respected National Academy of Sciences. In recommendations announced last week, the study would range from market trends to technical practices to health risks.

A subcommittee of the Virginia Commission on Coal and Energy will consider approving the recommendations on May 21 in Richmond. Before uranium can be mined in Virginia, the General Assembly would have to lift a ban that has been in place since 1982.

The study has been requested as a first step toward lifting that ban by Virginia Uranium Inc., which wants to mine a deposit near Chatham that is believed to be the largest in the nation. Its value is estimated at $7 billion to $10 billion.

Environmentalists and residents who live near the site are worried about hazards to human health and the environment from mining the radioactive material. They believe that health and environmental issues should be addressed first, followed by such topics as market trends, types of uranium deposits in other parts of the world and technical mining options.

Deborah Lovelace is one of them. Her farm is close to the deposit and she believes that effects on health and the environment should be studied before those other issues are taken up.

“The study should be stopped if it’s (mining) not safe,” Lovelace said. “Why even spend the money?”

She makes a good point. But a thorough framework of the study must include all the factors involved in any potential mining operation. And that is what the academy has proposed. The order in which those topics are covered is not necessarily important.

“The study will provide independent, expert advice that can be used to inform decisions about the future of uranium mining in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” the academy’s statement said.

The study won’t take a position for or against the mining, nor will it assess Virginia Uranium’s site.

If the study finds it is safe to mine uranium at the site near Chatham, the resulting yellow cake ore would reduce America’s dependence on foreign fuels in two ways. It would add to the 65 million pounds of uranium ore now used domestically each year for nuclear power. The U.S. only produces 4.7 million of those pounds. The balance comes from Canada, Australia and Russia.

Further, the new uranium ore would help reduce in the long run America’s use of foreign oil used by power plants from countries in the Mideast that would like to bury the U.S.

The uranium study proposed by the National Academy of Sciences is an important first step to any such mining in Virginia. The risks and rewards must be assessed in an orderly fashion and that is what the academy has proposed. It is a prudent approach to the potential future of uranium mining in Virginia.

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