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Uranium Opponents Pushing For Public Input

Uranium mining opponents reacted with trepidation — and determination — to the National Academy of Sciences’ agreement to perform a study to determine whether uranium can be mined and milled safely in Virginia. Jack Dunavant of Halifax, chairman of Southside Concerned Citizens, said the study will be biased in favor of pro-mining interests.

“If the study is not tainted, which I’m sure it will be, we’ll welcome it,” Dunavant said, adding that if the study becomes compromised, “we’ll certainly bring it to people’s attention.”

Dunavant questions whether a pile of powdered milling waste sitting in a flood plain above a river bed can be controlled, especially given the region’s rainy climate.

Karen Maute, who’s against uranium mining and milling in Pittsylvania County, said she would like to see all studies on the process complete — including those conducted by the NAS, the Danville Regional Foundation, Virginia Beach and the second part of the NAS study which would examine the socioeconomic aspects of mining and milling — before the state’s moratorium on uranium mining is lifted.

In addition, the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors and residents must have the chance to review and question all the completed studies before a moratorium is lifted. The board also needs to ensure mining in the county is not allowed until then, Maute said.

“Pittsylvania County is ground zero for mining and milling of uranium,” Maute said in a statement Wednesday. “The moratorium can be lifted by the General Assembly regardless of the direct consequences to us. We need to position ourselves (legally) so that uranium mining and milling do not occur until all studies are conducted, concluded and we, the citizens and governing body of Pittsylvania County, are satisfied that our health, safety and welfare are protected. I believe the board of supervisors has the authority and duty to put us in that position.”

The National Research Council, an arm of the NAS, has contracted with Virginia Tech’s Center for Coal and Energy Research to undertake a $1.4 million study to determine whether uranium can be mined and milled safely in the commonwealth. NAS/NRC officials say the study should be complete by the fall of 2011.

VUI, through the Center for Coal and Energy Research, is paying for the study.

Michael Karmis, director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Coal and Energy Research, said the NAS/NRC’s Provisional Committee, tasked to conduct and report on the study, will not be paid to perform it, Karmis said.

The $1.4 million will pay for NAS/NRC staff working for the committee members and for the committee members’ travel and lodging expenses for meetings, Karmis said.

“The source of money is totally irrelevant,” Karmis said.

Eloise Nenon, founding member of Southside Concerned Citizens, said the study may be scientific, but science is constantly changing and facts that may be apply now may be proven false in the future.

“We have to realize the limitations we now face,” Nenon said.

While Nenon said she was pleased at the mention of public participation in the Danville data-gathering meetings during the study, she would like to see NAS/NRC meetings open to the public. In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy has said the country doesn’t need new uranium supply since the nation can downblend enriched uranium.

Also, the commonwealth has a responsibility to the citizens to pay for the second part of the study that would examine mining and milling’s socioeconomic impacts — how it would affect the local economy, and the water supply for Southside, Virginia Beach and North Carolina, and centuries of local history, Nenon said.

In addition, “who pays for the clean-up and the health problems resulting from the mining?” she said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is reprinted with permission from the Danville Register & Bee.)