Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Foundation may fund study on uranium's impact

By TIM DAVIS/Star-Tribune Editor
Wednesday, October 7, 2009 8:53 AM EDT

DANVILLE - Danville Regional Foundation is considering funding a regional socioeconomic study of the impact of uranium mining and milling.

The foundation, formed in 2005 following the sale of Danville Regional Medical Center, last week issued a request for qualifications for a proposed study from interested firms, non-profit organizations and academic programs.

According to president and chief executive officer Karl Stauber, the foundation hopes to sponsor an "independent and rigorous socioeconomic examination" of the effects of the proposed uranium mine, mill, and long-term waste management on the people and institutions, including the economy, of its service region.

The foundation, which has $165 million in assets, serves Danville, Pittsylvania County and Caswell County, N.C.

"We're not taking a pro-mining position and we're not taking an anti-mining position," said Stauber. "We're taking a position that the people of this region need to understand the implications of uranium mining."

The proposed study would include the examination of three scenarios - best reasonable, worst reasonable, and reasonable - based on a variety of economic, social and ecological variables to be developed by the independent researchers.

It will look at uranium mining's benefits and dangers, including its effect on property values, taxes and institutions.

The proposed socioeconomic study would be conducted by an organization outside Virginia and without conflicts of interest, the proposal states, and would be separate from state studies.

The Virginia Commission on Coal and Energy is working with the National Academy of Sciences on a statewide scientific study of uranium mining.

The study, which is expected to take about 18 months, will cost an estimated $1.2 million.

Virginia Uranium Inc., which announced plans two years ago to explore mining uranium at Coles Hill, about six miles northeast of Chatham, has agreed to fund the scientific study through Virginia Tech.

Coal and Energy Commission Chairman Del. Terry Kilgore of Scott County said a formal contract between Virginia Tech and the National Academy of Sciences should be signed soon, with the study beginning in about 30 days.

The National Academy of Sciences is part of the National Research Council, a respected institute that conducts research and advises government agencies.

Kilgore said the state also plans to conduct its own study of the socioeconomic impact of uranium mining.

The second study, which will address the effects of uranium mining on businesses, schools and the community, will be conducted by another organization and funded separately, the chairman said.

According to Stauber, foundation's regional study will not take the place of a broader state study on the socioeconomic impact of uranium mining.

"It's not our intention to replace the statewide socioeconomic study," he said. "We are supportive of both and want to see them done well. We hope this regional effort will build on that."

Stauber said the foundation plans to share the results of its study with residents and institutions throughout its service region.

"We felt that since this region will most directly benefit or be hurt, the people need independent, rigorous information," the president said.

The foundation's deadline for qualifications is Dec. 1.

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