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Uranium Study Gets Green Light

The study to determine whether uranium can be mined and milled safely in Virginia is a go.

Virginia Tech’s Center for Coal and Energy Research has signed a contract with the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council for the study, NAS Spokesman William Kearney said Tuesday.

“We received word that the contract has been signed,” Kearney said.

The NAS/NRC will begin the study process when Virginia Tech pays the first installment for the $1.4 million study, Kearney said.

Virginia Uranium Inc. seeks to mine and mill a 119-million-pound uranium ore deposit at Coles Hill, about six miles northeast of Chatham. VUI, through Virginia Tech’s Center for Coal and Energy Research, will pay for the study’s first phase — which could cost up to $1.4 million — focusing on the technical and public-safety aspects of mining.
“We’ll eagerly await the results of the study on this important topic,” said Patrick Wales, spokesman and geologist for VUI.

Wales said uranium mining and milling hold economic and energy-related benefits for Southside, Virginia and the nation.

The second part of the study, dealing with the socioeconomic aspects of mining, still needs to be developed by the Virginia Coal & Energy Commission. VUI will not fund the second part.

Michael Karmis, director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Coal and Energy Research, could not be reached for comment earlier this week.

Once the NAS/NRC receives the first payment, the next step will be to form a provisional committee and hold a 20-day public comment period on the makeup of the committee, Kearney said. Citizens will be able to comment by visiting www.nationalacademies.org and clicking on “current projects.” The provisional committee of about a dozen scientific experts would perform the study and write its report.

The NAS/NRC will consider the public comment regarding the committee and discuss its balance, Kearney said. Committee members will be required to comply with the organization’s conflict-of-interest policy, which prohibits those with a financial stake in the subject examined from serving, Kearney said.

Kearney said the NAS/NRC Executive Committee hopes to hold the first data-gathering meetings this summer in Danville and Richmond, which will include public comment. The study’s fieldwork will begin this summer and last through the fall of 2011, Kearney said.

Wales also said VUI has no plans to mine and mill uranium at the 3,700-acre Berry Hill Road industrial mega park, where officials from Pittsylvania County and Danville hope to attract a large manufacturer. The site contains uranium ore deposits once held by Marline Uranium Corp.  

“We have nothing to do with the mega park,” Wales said. “No reasonable person has ever thought the mega park has anything to do with uranium mining.”

Walter Coles Sr., chairman and CEO of VUI, recently sent a letter to Danville City Council and the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors stating the company wants only to mine and mill uranium at Coles Hill.

The issue came up as anti-mining activists have tried to get the leaders of the city, the county and the regional board that is developing the mega park to agree to a resolution banning uranium mining and milling at the new industrial park site.


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