Danville Register & Bee
September 29, 2009
To the editor,
The author of, “Welcome funding,” (Sept. 24, page A8) is quite right that these are hard times in Virginia, and hard times call for a wise investment in the future so that things will improve. That’s exactly why it could make sense for the legislature to invest in a thorough and unbiased study of uranium mining. If the legislature wants to consider opening the [entire] state to uranium mining and milling, it should know whether uranium mining in Virginia is sure to lead to safe and sustainable economic development or might cause harm, regional stigmatization and boom-bust economic instability.
The author repeats the assertion frequently made by Virginia Uranium Inc. that the National Academy of Science is “beyond reproach.” The NAS does not make this claim. Rather, as a matter of policy, the NAS does not do studies for private, for-profit corporations or accept money directly from them. The NAS takes the appearance of influence seriously.
While acknowledging great respect for the National Academies, the Center for Science in the Public Interest in a 2006 report “found serious deficiencies in the NAS’ committee-selection process” and instances of “blatant conflicts of interest.” CSPI doesn’t write off NAS, but rather offers constructive recommendations to improve the study committee selection process to ensure independence and objectivity. The report is available at http://www.cspinet.org/new/pdf/nasreport.pdf. [emphasis mine...SB]
This isn’t a matter of “reproach”; it’s a matter of accountability — accountability for avoiding influence and the appearance of influence. It is appropriate that all participants in the study process, whether legislators, citizens, or the esteemed National Academies hold themselves and each other accountable.
Accountability will be equally important in the socioeconomic study.
Virginia needn’t cover the entire cost of a uranium study; any contribution by the commonwealth would have significance. Securing any state funds would involve an approval process that would confirm that the commonwealth wants the study and increase confidence that all evidence will be weighed fairly.