Wednesday, September 23, 2009

National Research Council Agrees to [Consider] Uranium Study

By John Crane

Danville Register & Bee
Published: September 23, 2009

A National Research Council official says a formal request for a study to determine whether uranium can be mined and milled safely in Virginia is worth pursuing.

Delegate Terry Kilgore, head of the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission, sent a written request to the NRC on Aug. 20. The NRC responded Sept. 8, saying the proposed study merits consideration.

“The fact that the request comes from a body created by the Virginia General Assembly … is a strong indication to us of the importance of this study to the commonwealth and one that deserves our serious attention,” wrote E. William Colglazier, chief operating officer of the NRC, in a letter to Kilgore.

The NRC is an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

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 currently has a moratorium on uranium mining.

Mining supporters say an operation at Coles Hill would bring economic benefits to Southside and supply hundreds of jobs. Opponents believe the project would destroy the environment and threaten public health, turning Pittsylvania County into a sacrifice zone.

As for the NRC’s response, Kilgore said he thinks the study will happen.

“I get a good feeling they’re going to do it,” Kilgore said Tuesday. “I think we can expect a positive outcome.”

VUI, through Virginia Tech’s Center for Coal and Energy Research, will pay for the study’s first phase focusing on the technical and public-safety aspects of mining.

The study’s first portion will cost $1.2 to $1.4 million. Virginia Tech’s Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research will implement funding and will contract with the NAS for the study. Kilgore said the second part of the study, dealing with the socioeconomic aspects of mining, still needs to be worked out by the commission. VUI will not fund the second part.

William Kearney, an NRC spokesman, said the group’s Governing Board has not approved the study request, and will likely discuss it at the board’s regular meeting in October or November. In the meantime, NRC staff will prepare a prospectus, or study proposal, that will include a scope, timeline, likely costs and sponsorship, Kearney said. The board would review the prospectus before deciding whether to approve the request.

If the board approves the request, the next step would be the NRC negotiating and entering into a contract with Virginia Tech’s Center for Coal and Energy Research. The board would then appoint a provisional committee of about a dozen scientific experts to perform the study and write its report, Kearney said. There will be public comment regarding the makeup of the committee, Kearny said.

The committee’s members would make a site visit to Coles Hill and possibly hold a public meeting, Kearney said.

Eloise Nenon, a founding member of Southside Concerned Citizens, which opposes mining, said there needs to be citizen input during the study.

“To ignore the people makes no sense at all,” Nenon said Tuesday. The study needs local viewpoint, which is different than that of scientists from outside the area, she said.

VUI spokesman Patrick Wales praised the NRC’s response to Kilgore’s request.

“I think this is another important step in getting the nation’s preeminent independent scientific institution to evaluate this energy resource in Pittsylvania County,” Wales, a geologist with VUI, said.

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