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Uranium Mining Report: Weather Uncertainty a Concern for Some

December 21, 2011

RICHMOND, Va. - To keep the ban or lift it? That question regarding the nearly 30-year ban on uranium mining in Virginia remains unanswered for now.

A new report commissioned by the state was released this week by the National Academy of Sciences. It assesses a variety of issues, including possible environmental and health effects, as well as technical "best practices" for extracting and processing uranium.

While the report is detailed, says Nathan Lott, executive director of the Virginia Conservation Network, some concerns can't possibly be addressed.

"Will there be severe weather - a hurricane or an earthquake at the proposed mine site - sometime over the next 30 years? Things like that, no one can answer. What will the price of uranium be in five years, or 10 years or 20 years? No one can answer that, but it has a real bearing on how safe the operation will be."

A primary concern for environmental groups, Lott says, is possible leaching of radioactive materials, which could potentially contaminate drinking water for thousands of Virginians.

If the General Assembly decides to lift the ban, the report says, it is unlikely that mining would begin at the proposed site for five to eight years.

The report examines other U.S. uranium-mining sites and elsewhere, and says concerns about worker safety could be alleviated by adopting some of those sites' "best practices." It also suggests implementing stringent and transparent regulations if mining takes place. However, Lott worries about the state's history regarding environmental protections.

"In many ways, this report makes a challenge to the state of Virginia, that if they decided that they wanted to proceed, they would need to have some pretty radical changes in the way that they fund environmental protection and view environmental protection - as a forethought, rather than an afterthought."

Gov. Bob McDonnell's office says he won't make any comments or statements about the NAS report until a thorough, internal analysis of it is done. Virginia Uranium, Inc., proposed the mine, which would include a uranium mine, mill and waste-disposal site in Pittsylvania County.

The full report is online at nap.edu.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA