Mining uranium could lead to significant economic benefits to Southside Virginia, but could also pose possible environmental risks, according to a study released Friday.
The study, conducted by RTI International for the Danville Regional Foundation, examined the potential socioeconomic impacts of mining near Pittsylvania County.
It was similar to a state-ordered study released last week in that it predicted the creation of jobs (up to 1,000) and an economic boost to the beleaguered Southside economy ($70 million to $220 million).
But, it also says, that “even if the mine and mill meet or exceed regulatory standards, detectable concentrations of uranium and other constituents would be released from the facility into the surrounding environment.”
“Risks include both actual environmental risks and perceived risks that could hurt the region’s reputation,” the study says.
Another study by the National Academy of Sciences is expected to be released next week.
Virginia Uranium hopes to persuade the General Assembly to repeal the nearly three-decade moratorium on uranium mining at its session in January.
“From day one, our company has been committed to building the safest uranium mining and milling operation in the world,’’ the company said in a statement Friday. “The RTI study identifies a clear path to achieving this mission. As we move forward, we will continue to demonstrate our commitment to protecting the health and well-being of the Southside community.”
Two uranium deposits were found three decades ago in Coles Hill, near Chatham, a small town in Pittsylvania. They begin at the ground’s surface, under land used to raise cattle, hay and timber, and run about 1,500 feet deep.
The company said tests indicate that about 119 million pounds of uranium - worth as much as $10 billion - are below the surface. That would be enough to supply all the country’s nuclear power plants for about two years or all of Virginia’s demands for 75 years.
Environmental groups said uranium should not be mined in Virginia’s highly populated areas and relatively rainy climate.
“We believe that a thorough analysis and venting of this report, as well as other issues, should take place over the next year or more,’’ said Andrew Lester, executive director of the Roanoke River Basin Association. “Further, we believe that a series of public hearings should be held throughout the state on a monthly basis for the next 18 months by an unbiased commission. Only fools rush in on a matter this monumental.’’