By John Crane
Published: July 8, 2009
While the commonwealth waits for a study to begin to determine whether uranium can be mined and milled safely in the state, the head of the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission is seeking funding for the study.
So far, the sole entity that has expressed willingness to pay for the study is Virginia Uranium Inc., said Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-1st District, chairman of the VCEC.
“They’re the only ones who have offered funding,” Kilgore said, adding that he will try to obtain funding from environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, the Piedmont Environmental Council or other organizations.
The commission is responsible for arranging financing of the study. The VCEC’s Uranium Mining Subcommittee approved the first part of the study, which is expected to cover the technical aspects of mining and milling, in May. Kilgore said the study’s first portion would cost about $1.2 million. The second phase, which would cover uranium’s economic impact but has not yet been approved by the subcommittee, will cost about $500,000, Kilgore said.
The subcommittee will oversee the study. Michael Karmis, director of the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech, presented the final recommendation of the first phase of the study’s scope to the subcommittee on May 21, and is working on the study with the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council.
Karmis is out of the country and could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Kilgore said he will talk to Karmis about funding sources for the study and expects the next Uranium Mining Subcommittee meeting to take place in August or September. Kilgore said he believes the study, which would take up to two years, will start in the fall and that determining the scope of the study’s second phase later will not slow the process.
VUI chairman Walter Coles Sr. said his company has not been in discussion with the commission about providing funding, but would help pay for it if no alternate sources are found. VUI seeks to mine and mill a 119-million pound uranium ore deposit at Coles Hill, about six miles northeast of Chatham. Funding must be in place before the study begins, Kilgore said.
Uranium mining opponents have raised questions about the objectivity of a study backed by mining interests. Kilgore said he trusts the National Academy of Sciences to approach the study scientifically with no bias.
“The NAS would have a lot of safeguards in place,” Kilgore said. “They’re scientists first. I don’t believe they have an agenda either way.”
Jennifer Walsh, spokeswoman with the NAS/NRC, said academy officials have discussed the study’s scope with Karmis. Walsh said the academy has not received an official request for a study.
“The official request and proposed statement of task (the study’s scope) must … be approved by our governing board, which includes the president of the NAS, before a study can begin,” Walsh said via e-mail Wednesday.
The scope of the study’s first phase includes, among additional items, examination of public-safety and health impact of uranium mining and milling; review of the geologic, environmental, geographic, climatic and cultural settings and exploration status of uranium resources in Virginia; identification and description of the main types of uranium deposits worldwide, including, for example, geologic characteristics, mining operations and best practices; a review of global and national uranium market trends; a review of the state and federal regulatory framework for uranium mining, milling, processing and reclamation; identification of the issues that may need to be considered regarding the quality and quantity of groundwater and surface water and the quality of soil and air from uranium mining, milling, processing and reclamation; as relevant, water and waste management and severe weather effects or other stochastic events may also be considered.