The Washington Post

Public meetings will be held on uranium mining in Virginia

The National Academy of Sciences will hold a series of meetings next week to brief the public on its two-year study of uranium mining in Virginia.

The meetings will be held in Fairfax County on Wednesday, Charlottesville on Thursday and Richmond on Friday.

The report said uranium could be mined but that Virginia Uranium, a company seeking to mine a massive site in Southside, would have to take measures to protect workers, the public and the environment in Virginia, which has no experience unearthing a radioactive element.

Several members of the committee that wrote the report will present the findings and take audience questions. 

In January, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) recommended that the state further study the impact of excavating the site that contains the nation’s largest known uranium deposit before lifting a mining ban.

He created a multi-agency group — comprising staff from the Virginia Department of Health, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy — to study the site and draft regulations for a possible new mining industry in Virginia. The group will accept public comments during four open meetings and on a new Web site.

Public meetings will be held in June (on environmental impacts), August (on water and air quality), October (on public health and safety) and November (on worker health and safety), but much of their work will be done behind closed doors, which opponents have criticized.

Uranium was found three decades ago in Coles Hill, near Chatham, a small town in Pittsylvania County. The deposit, which lies under farmland, begins nears the surface and runs about 1,500 feet deep.

Virginia Uranium had lobbied aggressively for a lifting of the ban this year. Its tests indicate that there is about 119 million pounds of uranium — worth as much as $10 billion — below the surface; that would make it the world’s seventh-largest known deposit, with enough to supply all U.S. nuclear power plants for about two years or satisfy Virginia’s demands for 75 years.

Environmental groups worry that a uranium mine in Virginia’s relatively rainy climate could contaminate natural resources, cause illness and have long-term effects on plants and animals.

Company officials say that additional safeguards have been put in place since mining at Coles Hill was first considered and that the federal government regulates uranium mines and mills with regard to safety and homeland security.



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