Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Energy Companies Push for Lift of 30 Year Ban on Uranium Mining

Listen to the full story here.

Energy companies met strong opposition Monday to lifting a ban on uranium mining in Virginia. Both supporters and those opposing lifting the 30 year old ban met in Richmond and shared their views in a public comment period to support a National Academy of Sciences study.

The 30 month long study concerns the effects of uranium mining in the south Virginia town of Danville. The NAS is just over the halfway mark in their work.

Paul Locke, chair of the committee, says the goal of the study is to inform the General Assembly and the public of the positives and negatives of future uranium mining. The specifics of the report are laid out in a 12 point list covering everything from trends in the uranium trade, to the safety of ground water.

“As a committee our biggest task right now is to gather info about all 12 of these items and start to think about them and how we can answer the questions that are raised by our statement of task, so that we can prepare a good report.”

A ban on uranium mining in Virginia was put in to place in 1982 after concerns over mining the same Pittsylvania county deposit lead to controversy and environmental worries. Concerns are similar today.

Trieste Lockwood, Director of Virginia Interfaith Power and Light said the areas wet climate could lead to local contamination.

“There's never been a mining project like this allowed east of the Mississippi River, because of the health hazards and environmental hazards and it just has a very high population and wet climate, which is what makes it a threat and which is why it's not usually done over here anyway.”

Lockwood also cites economic concerns to local businesses from uranium mining in an agriculturally rich area.

“We're more concerned about the loss of agricultural businesses, there's a lot of - agriculture is the foundation of our economy in Virginia. There's a lot of farms, wineries, businesses around that area, that would be at risk to have their water and product polluted from uranium toxic tailings and waste.”

Patrick Wales, who is the project manager for Virginia Uranium, Inc., one company who stands to profit from the mining, cite the operation as a $10 billion economic opportunity.

“We're looking at about 330 direct jobs, average annual wage of about $65,000 a year. You put that in perspective with a community that has about 15 percent unemployment and an average annual wage down in our part of Virginia is about $28,000 a year and it's a significant impact economically.”

However, one resident of Pittsylvania county, Allen Gross, whose water was tested before and during test drilling, says he is already seeing ill-environmental effects from the mining.

“When they got done with their samples I couldn't read any parts per billion or anything like that, so I sent it to a water analyst and he told me I shouldn't have been drinking my water because it had been contaminated with lead – and lead is a byproduct of uranium.”

Patrick Moore, one of the co-founders of Greenpeace, and current Chief Scientist for Greenspirit Strategies in Vancouver, says that such cases will be avoided if current standards for uranium mines are followed.

“If the mine is designed and operated properly according to international standards which are well known, there should be no serious damage to the environment and the ecological restoration of the site afterward should return it to a healthy ecosystem that can grow trees or crops or whatever.”

The study on uranium mining in the region is being conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, an independent, non-profit research society – and is being sponsored by Virginia Tech. The study will compare currently known information about the effects of uranium mining to new research being done in the region.

Locke says that once the study is complete, it will face a blind review before being given to the Virginia General Assembly, who have the final say in lifting the ban.

“The legislators can do what they want, always. And in fact, as I mentioned earlier, they will be getting input from different sources, they have our report they have 3 other reports and as you saw from our public hearing, the citizens are very actively involved and I'm sure they will be talking to the legislators, too.”

The study was approved in 2008 when the Virginia Commission on Coal and Energy voted to take on the $1.4 million endeavor.

The final report is to be completed by December of this year with Virginia Uranium, Inc. hoping to get the mining ban lifted by next year's assembly.

For Richmond Independent Radio News, I'm Brad Fulton. Cbeck out our blog at for this and other stories.

-Brad Fulton

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