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Reactions to uranium mining report mixed

Sunday, December 2, 2012

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Reactions are mixed to the Uranium Working Group’s final report on what a regulatory framework would look like if the General Assembly were to lift the moratorium on uranium mining.

The report was issued Friday. In response, Patrick Wales, project manager for Virginia Uranium Inc., stated in a release: “Our company is pleased that the Uranium Working Group (UWG) has completed its task by developing a framework of robust regulations for uranium mining in Virginia that will ensure the protection of our public health, worker safety and the environment. The report leaves no doubt that our regulatory agencies are capable of effectively and safely regulating uranium mining.”

Virginia Uranium embraces the need for strict regulations and looks forward to working closely with state and federal regulators, Wales stated.

“The environmental performance of the uranium mining industry over the last 30 years proves that we can do this safely and in a way that protects our environment,” he added.

Virginia Uranium has lobbied state legislators to get the General Assembly to lift a 30-year moratorium on uranium mining so the company can tap into the 119-million-pound uranium deposit in Pittsylvania County. The company has produced studies that say the mining and milling (processing) operation would create hundreds of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue in a region of the state sorely in need of an economic boost, The Associated Press has reported.

When asked to supply a list of groups, localities, etc. that have endorsed Virginia Uranium’s proposal, Wales provided a list of positive comments by 15 or so people and a few statements in newspapers saying that decisions should be based on facts and science, not fears and emotions.

Olga Kolotushkina, the Dan River Basin Association’s spokeswoman on uranium mining, said the UWG report failed to address the main issue of whether uranium should be mined and processed in Virginia, which is prone to natural disasters such as hurricanes.

“...The National Academy of Sciences issued a peer-reviewed study that identifies grave risks of allowing uranium mining and processing in Virginia ... and indicating not all risks can be mitigated. This is the issue of livelihood for the downstream communities and the UWG report does not address the issue,” she said.

Opposition to lifting the uranium mining ban is growing, Kolotushkina said, noting that 40 localities in Virginia and North Carolina, the Virginia Farm Bureau, Virginia Association of Counties and Virginia Municipal League have expressed opposition.

State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Glade Hill, said Friday he had only skimmed the report and will read it in detail. “It sounds like it sets a regulatory framework in broad strokes if the moratorium is lifted,” he said.

“Nothing in there is going to convince me” to vote to lift the moratorium, he said. He added he is not convinced that uranium mining and processing can be done 100 percent safely to protect people, livestock, farms and water.

He said he anticipates legislation will be introduced in the next session of the General Assembly to lift the moratorium. He added he thinks there would be enough support in the House of Delegates to pass it but it would be a close vote in the Senate.

Stanley said he plans to introduce bills to help create jobs in Southside other than through uranium mining and processing, and he hopes some of the anti-uranium groups will support his efforts. For instance, he said he thinks Southside needs to have an inland port.

State Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, said he had yet read the UWG report. He encourages all people to read the report so they will be informed on the issue, which he expects will come up in the upcoming session of the General Assembly.

“It’s not just a Pittsylvania County issue; it really affects the whole state of Virginia,” he said.

Marshall said he opposes lifting the moratorium.

“Our part of the state needs jobs,” he said. But, “I think the stigma uranium mining would have on the whole region would be a detriment. I think it would hurt us more than help us.”

State Del. Don Merricks, R-Pittsylvania County, also said he had not read the report Friday.

But, “I’ve still got to be convinced this (lifting the moratorium) is the right thing to do,” he said.

Merricks referred to a news media report that state Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, is considering sponsoring legislation directing state agencies to create regulations for uranium mining.

That, in effect, would lift the moratorium, Merricks said.

If he had to vote on such a bill today, Merricks said he would vote no.

“I can live with mining; the milling (processing) gives me a great deal of heartburn,” he said. He added that he is concerned about such things as having to “monitor in perpetuity” and the “high level of risk.”

Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Glade Hill, and several local officials also had not yet read the report Friday.

Joe Lerch, director of environmental policy for the Virginia Municipal League, estimates, based on figures in the UWG report, it would cost, at least initially, about $20 million more annually for the regulatory system to operate in Virginia. He added that amount might decrease substantially after a baseline of information is established.

The report says, “Having permit and license fees (initial and annual) covering the full costs of regulating uranium mining and milling would ensure that the public would not have to bear such costs.” But Lerch wondered what would happen if the price of uranium fluctuated and the uranium company failed and could not reimburse the state for its expenses.

 

 
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