Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Uranium mining: After Safety, What’s Next?

Interesting question, Mr. Crane. My guess is that, given that the safety issues are at the bottom of the list of things the study will address, we'll never get there.

The question of mining uranium in Virginia...the list document says that the study will address nothing specific to individual sites (like Coles Hill or Southside)...will be decided on money issues alone.

But...should a miracle happen and the scientists realize/admit early on that U mining in VA cannot be done safely, then there is no reason at all to study the economic aspects. No amount of money can be generated by this mining to override any danger. Period.

By John Crane

Published: May 13, 2009

The Virginia Coal and Energy Commission’s Uranium Mining Subcommittee meets next week in Richmond to mull a proposed final draft of a study that would determine whether uranium can be mined and milled safely in the commonwealth.

But even if the draft — which addresses mining’s technical and public-health aspects — gets a thumbs-up, the subcommittee’s job will only be half done.

Its members must decide on the study’s second part, which would analyze the socio-economic aspects of uranium mining. Members disagree on when to proceed with the second part of the study.

Virginia Uranium Inc. seeks to mine and mill a 119-million-pound uranium ore deposit at Coles Hill, about six miles northeast of Chatham. Virginia has had a moratorium on uranium mining since 1982.

Subcommittee member Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell County, said he opposes conducting the study’s second portion if mining is found to be unsafe.

“If that is a ‘no,’ we don’t have to answer any more questions,” Puckett said Wednesday. “To me, the safety part is more important.” Delegate Bud Phillips, D-Sandy Ridge, agrees, calling the socio-economic aspects “secondary.” The most vital question is whether mining can be done in a manner safe for citizens and the environment, Phillips said Wednesday. Puckett’s and Phillips’s districts are in coal-mining areas. Phillips once worked in the coal-mining industry, like his father.

Subcommittee Chair Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, wants to see the second phase begin quickly.

“My own preference would be for the Uranium Mining Subcommittee … to authorize as soon as possible a study of the socio-economic implications of uranium mining generally, the proposed mining at Coles Hill specifically,” Ware said via e-mail Monday.

During the subcommittee’s meeting in March, Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, said the economic part of the study is important. “I think we have to ensure there is a market for it (uranium)” he said.

Other members expressed concerns similar to Puckett’s and Phillips’s during the subcommittee’s March meeting. Delegate Kristen Amundson, D-Mount Vernon, questioned giving the economic aspects of the issue priority when safety and environmental matters should be the main focus. Delegate Watkins Abbitt, I-Appomattox, said the marketing aspects of uranium mining should be left for the private sector to study and if mining uranium is found to be unsafe, examining its costs and benefits would be a waste of time.

Amundson and Abbitt could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Patrick Wales, VUI spokesman and geologist, said he would like to see the second part of the study address the economic benefits, including high-paying jobs for the area’s available work force uranium mining would bring to Southside.

Eloise Nenon, a board member of Southside Concerned Citizens, which opposes uranium mining, said the practice’s possible detrimental effects on agritourism and other types of tourism must be examined in the study’s socio-economic part. Other sources of energy, including solar, should be looked at, she said. Nenon questions whether Virginia Uranium’s plan would bring employment to locals, who likely have no mining experience. She said transient mine workers from West Virginia and other areas farther west would take those jobs.

Wales said Southside has hardworking people capable of working in uranium mining and milling, and that anytime a new industry locates to an area, local workers are trained in that field.

The subcommittee unanimously approved in March the first draft of the study’s first phase outlining the technical and scientific aspects of the analysis that Michael Karmis, director of the Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech, said would take about 18 months.

The technical phase includes 11 aspects, such as reviewing global and national uranium market trends and public health and safety considerations.

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