ROANOKE, Va. — A study of proposed uranium mining in Virginia would range from market trends to technical practices to health risks, the National Academy of Sciences said in recommendations released Thursday.
A Virginia Commission on Coal and Energy subcommittee posted the academy's recommendations for the study online. The recommendations were made by the academy's working arm, the National Research Council. The Virginia panel will consider approving them at a May 21 meeting 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 to lifting that ban by Virginia Uranium Inc., which wants to mine a 119 million-pound Pittsylvania County deposit that is believed to be the largest in the nation. Its value is estimated at $7 billion to $10 billion.
"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, the academy said, nor will it assess Virginia Uranium's site near Chatham.
Environmentalists and residents who live close to the site near the Virginia-North Carolina state line are worried about hazards to human health and the environment from mining the radioactive material.
The academy proposed assessing short- and long-term health risks both to workers and the public.
The study would examine ecosystem issues and problems related to air and water pollution, the academy said.
Uranium in the U.S. has been mined only in the arid West, and opponents believe the more humid Eastern climate would increase adverse environmental effects.
Deborah Lovelace, whose farm is close to the deposit, was concerned the academy listed health and environmental issues after such topics as market trends, types of uranium deposits worldwide and technical mining options.
Effects on health and the environment should be studied before those other issues are addressed, she said.
"The study should be stopped if it's (mining) not safe," Lovelace said. "Why even spend the money?"
But Del. Kristen Amundson, a member of the panel charged with commissioning an independent study, said she would be concerned only if health or the environment were not included in the review.
"I think there are very serious issues that would have to be resolved about safety and about environmental protection," said Amundson, of Fairfax. "I would really like to see someone with a very strong science background analyze those issues."A company called Marline Uranium explored mining Virginia uranium in the 1980s, but its interest waned as the price of the ore fell. A spike in the price recently has revived interest in the mining.