Lynchburg News and Advance
September 13, 2009
Most people are understandably confused about the uranium studies. Will the National Academy of Sciences undertake a uranium technical study funded solely by a mining company? Del. Terry Kilgore, chairman of the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission, doesn’t know. No one knows. We know even less about the uranium socio-economic study.
A governing board will decide whether NAS will do the technical study. This board has not yet made a decision, or even discussed Del. Kilgore’s very recent request for a study. The board must also determine whether accepting 100 percent of the funding — however indirectly — from a uranium mining company is consistent with the board’s responsibility to safeguard the academy’s unique reputation for independent, unbiased scientific research.
Del. Kilgore has held open the possibility that other organizations (besides Virginia Uranium, Inc.) will contribute money for the technical study, but so far no one has. It’s not clear whether any organization has been solicited to contribute. So far no legislator has offered to ask the legislature for funding to cover even a small portion of the cost. If it’s important to the state to do this study, why are our legislators unwilling to pay for even a token part of it?
Though second in the time sequence, the uranium socioeconomic study is arguably the more important of the two studies. The technical study will address the safety issue by providing legislators with evidence regarding whether uranium mining, milling, and tailings storage are being done safely elsewhere under conditions comparable to those in Virginia. It should also identify knowledge gaps. The socioeconomic study will address the issue of whether uranium mining is something we want in our state. It should provide evidence about how introducing the uranium industry affects the overall health, economic well-being, and quality of life in communities.
Perception, as well as science, plays a critical role in whether introducing this industry is a good idea. The state policy decision depends not only on the safety question, but also on the much larger and less tangible question of what life we want for our communities.
Chairwoman, Dan River Basin Association Mining Task Force