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Uranium Working Group delivers study to Gov. McDonnell

SoVaNow.com / November 30, 2012
The Uranium Working Group, an interagency task force made up of environmental, mining and health department staff, has delivered to Governor Bob McDonnell its final report on a possible regulatory framework for uranium mining in Virginia.

The McDonnell administration in an e-mail Friday morning acknowledged the receipt of the report and said the Governor would be reviewing the findings in the weeks ahead, prior to the 2013 General Assembly session in January. That’s when the legislature is expected to take up the question of whether to end Virginia’s 30-year moratorium on uranium mining.
The Working Group has been studying the Coles Hill mining project that Virginia Uranium Inc. is seeking in Pittsylvania County. The UWG’s report comes a year after the National Academy of Sciences weighed in on the topic, finding that Virginia faced “steep hurdles” in creating a regulatory framework that would protect the health and environment of the region around the mine and the safety of drinking water supplies for much of Southside, portions of North Carolina and Hampton Roads.

The UWG report does not include a socioeconomic report, which McDonnell said would be done later, hopefully by mid-January. He said the study of the social and economic impacts of uranium mining had been delayed by the difficulty in finding a consulting group that can independently examine the question. Most firms that specialize in the work have been employed by either the mining industry or opponents of the project, said the governor.

The text of his statement is as follows:

“Almost a year ago, the National Academy of Sciences issued a long awaited report on uranium mining. While the NAS report provided much useful information, it offered very little specific to the issues in Virginia, and left many questions unanswered. For that reason, members of the General Assembly asked me to task the appropriate Executive Branch agencies with providing substantial, additional information and to determine what a comprehensive regulatory program for safe uranium mining might look like, should the current moratorium be lifted by the General Assembly in the years ahead.

In response, I promptly directed establishment of a Uranium Working Group from the subject matter experts in the departments of Mines Minerals and Energy, Health, and Environmental Quality. This Working Group was tasked with providing a detailed scientific policy analysis that would inform the General Assembly what a regulatory framework for uranium mining might look like if they decide to lift the moratorium. We identified 18 specific questions for the Working Group to address and authorized it to hire appropriate technical experts as needed to assist in their work.

For the past 10 months, the geologists, hydrologists, biologists, health scientists, attorneys, and other regulatory experts at DMME, VDH and DEQ – together with experts from around the country pursuant to two contracts for expert assistance entered into by the Working Group retained after a competitive bidding process – have examined the issues put before them. They have reviewed previous reports and scientific literature, visited the Coles Hill site, met with federal and state regulators and regulators from other states and countries, and met together numerous times to discuss their findings and determine what more they needed to know. In addition, as they completed their review of specific topics, the Working Group held six public meetings, in different parts of the Commonwealth, to share the information they had, respond to public questions, and hear public comment. Significant input was also received and reviewed through the Working Group’s web site (http://www.uwg.vi.virginia.gov), which now offers a tremendous volume of related materials, including reports from the experts hired to assist in their analysis, a bibliography of other materials reviewed, and the comments, questions and responses received from the public during their work.

As requested by the General Assembly and our office, the Working Group developed a conceptual regulatory framework that identifies the statutory and regulatory measures that would be necessary if a legislative decision is made to lift the moratorium. One element of their work – the examination of potential socioeconomic impacts – has been delayed by the difficulty in finding a suitable, objective expert to undertake the necessary survey work that has not already been employed to do work by stakeholders on one side of the issue or the other. As a consequence, and because the Group was unwilling to limit the original scope of this portion of their work, an addendum to the Group’s final report will be provided when the contractor’s work is complete, hopefully in mid-January.

The Working Group was not asked for, and has not provided, an ultimate policy recommendation on whether or not the moratorium on uranium mining in the Commonwealth should be lifted. If the General Assembly decides to lift the moratorium, it will be necessary to amend and adopt statutes and authorize the subsequent development of actual regulations pursuant to the Virginia Administrative Process Act. Only after regulations are developed, proposed, adopted and approved after a lengthy public process could an application for a permit to mine uranium in Virginia be developed and submitted for consideration.

Today the Working Group has delivered its final report to our office pursuant to its deadline of December 1, 2012. At the same time, we are delivering the report to the members of the General Assembly and made available to the public. It will also be posted to the Working Group’s web site. I look forward to reviewing the full report, meeting with our agency experts to discuss their work, and hearing the views of the experts on the Coal and Energy Commission’s Uranium Subcommittee in the coming weeks. I understand that this issue is critically important to many Virginians, and that it raises appropriate concern among many in the vicinity of Coles Hill and beyond. I believe it is crucially important that all voices be heard in the decision-making process ahead. For that reason, in addition to meeting with my staff in the coming weeks, I will meet with stakeholders on both sides of the issue, and will review the public input received to date, before deciding whether or not I will make any recommendation on uranium mining in the Commonwealth. I have formed no prior opinion on whether mining should be permitted, as I have awaited, like most should, the publication of this report. As I have previously noted, the overriding consideration is whether uranium mining and milling can be conducted with a high degree of public safety, and whether suitable assurances can be given that the air, water, health, and well-being of the citizens will be protected.

Finally, I want to commend the great efforts of the Working Group. The agency staff who participated in this important work did so with a high level of professionalism, openness and evenhandedness. They have completed their task with great diligence and thoroughness and met their deadline. As I begin to evaluate the report, I thank them for their tremendous work and I am confident it will help me, the General Assembly, and the public reach an appropriate decision on this matter.”

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Comments

According to http://www.virginiauranium.com, VUI intends to engage in three activities: .." underground mining, milling, and tailings disposal."

According to the US EPA at http://www.epa.gov/radtown/uranium-mines.html#radiation_mining, they write: "However, underground mines potentially pose a higher radon risk to both the public and workers. Mines and mining waste can release radionuclides, including radon, and other pollutants to streams, springs, and other bodies of water."

Milling: "Although the milling process recovers about 95 percent of the uranium present in ores, the residues, or tailings, contain several naturally-occurring radioactive elements, including uranium, thorium, radium, polonium, and radon. They also contain a number of chemically hazardous elements, such as arsenic. Past use of mill tailings for house, school, road, and other construction created public radiation health hazards."

Comments

It's an odd irony in our society: Excluding those living in poverty, we live comfortable lives, esp compared to millions sharing our planet. Yet we continue to choose pleasure in things that give us immediate satisfaction while we know in the long-term it's hazardous to not only ourselves but to innocent others. And if we were to suffer that long-term hazard, we indeed feel badly. Because we are basically kind/good people. That thought and behavior is true to an acceptance of uranium mining into our community. The immediate gain may be more income/jobs, but the long-term implications must trouble your minds. What's worse is that we haven't given alternatives to uranium mining a good enough try. To me it's so apparent that we need to invest in our best assets: our labor force; arable land and excellent conditions toward agriculture and husbandry growth/development; the natural/extensive beauty of our community; and our unique role in the history of the USA.


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