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River groups concerned over uranium appointments

The Roanoke River Basin Association and the Dan River Basin Association are recommending that the National Academy of Sciences investigate the backgrounds and professional relationships of several appointees to the provisional committee that will study uranium mining in Virginia to ensure no conflicts of interest, according to association officials. Virginia Uranium, Inc. is seeking to mine and mill approximately 110 million pounds of uranium, previously estimated at about $10 billion, in nearby Pittsylvania County. The deposit is located on about 200 acres known as Coles Hill near Chatham.

Mining of the uranium ore has been opposed by Halifax County-based Southside Concerned Citizens due to the threat of uranium mill tailings in the drinking water downstream from the mining site.

The Roanoke River and Dan River Basin Associations also are requesting that the Board on Earth Sciences and Resources that is overseeing this study recruit additional individuals with expertise in hydrology, geo-hydrology, human health and post-mining tailings management to served on the committee, officials added.

The uranium mining study was commissioned by the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission Uranium Mining Subcommittee, and it will examine the scientific, technical, environmental, human health, safety and regulatory aspects of uranium mining, milling and processing as they relate to the Commonwealth of Virginia, officials said.

The Virginia General Assembly will rely upon findings of the study to determine whether uranium mining should be permitted in the commonwealth.

Proposed uranium mining has been a controversial issue in Virginia since the late 1970s when the uranium mining deposits were first discovered. In 1982, the Virginia General Assembly banned uranium mining “until a program for permitting uranium mining is established by statute.”

Attempts to lift the ban on uranium mining were resumed in 2007 when the price of uranium spiked on global markets, association officials said.
Since then uranium mining has been an issue of utmost concern for the communities that potentially may be affected by uranium mining. 

If the uranium mining ban is lifted, there likely would be exploration for uranium in the black shale of Southwest Virginia, in crystalline granite throughout the Blue Ridge and in sedimentary rock in the Coastal Plains, as well as further exploration in the Northern and Southern Piedmont, association officials said.

“Given the controversial nature of the issue, and the potential impact on the entire state of Virginia and the communities in neighboring North Carolina, it is especially important that this uranium mining study is performed by a well-balanced and objective panel of scientists and experts who are free of any obligations to entities that may either benefit from or be disadvantaged by the findings of this study,” said Katherine Mull, executive director of the Dan River Basin Association.

“Uranium mining has a potential of affecting many communities and their water supply in Virginia and North Carolina, and it is the National Academy’s responsibility to ensure that the study process is conducted in a most transparent manner with an ample opportunity for public comment,” said Gene Adesso, vice-president of the Roanoke River Basin Association.