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Concerns over Uranium Working Group remain

Two environmental groups opposed to lifting the moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia still have not received a satisfactory response from Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell concerning their letter raising concerns about the lack of transparency within the Uranium Working Group.

The Uranium Working Group is a state panel appointed to study regulations and safeguards necessary before a 1982 ban on uranium mining could be lifted.

The Piedmont Environmental Council and the Virginia League of Conservation Voters raised several issues in their Feb. 29 letter to the governor, citing concerns about “lack of transparency, limited public participation and potential lack of experience or conflict of interest” within the Uranium Working Group.

According to a letter to McDonnell written this month, those issues are still outstanding.

The newest letter raises additional concerns, first over the background of consultants hired by the Uranium Working Group, suggesting possible conflict of interest.

Wright Environmental Services, Inc. is a two-year old company with a very short track record, and “all of its references on its Data Sheet, supplied with the response to the Request for Proposal, are from the uranium industry,” the letter argues.

“To have an unbiased report reviewed or developed by a group with an apparent per-disposition does not inspire confidence,” the letter continued.

The two environmental groups also questioned the exclusion of environmental advocates as part of the Uranium Working Group while at the same time dismissing the concerns raised by environmental groups.

The letter pointed to the governor’s appearance on WTOP radio’s Ask the Governor segment, where McDonnell indicated environmental groups that are complaining they don’t have a seat at the table are wrong.

“The statement about a seat at the table raises many questions,” the letter says.

“Is this an invitation for members of our community to be part of the Uranium Working Group?  Does this mean the meetings of the Uranium Working Group will be open to the public?  Will the Uranium Working Group have an advisory board consisting of interested parties?”

The letter concludes by raising the issue of trust in the findings of the Uranium Working Group.

“If we are to have any trust in the process that is before us, we need proof that we are being heard and that our legitimate and reasonable concerns are being addressed.”

Virginia Uranium, Inc. wants to mine a uranium deposit on Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County, one that would yield an estimated 119 millions pounds of “yellowcake.”

The deposit has been described as the nation’s richest source of untapped uranium oxide.

The current moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia has ignited a debate that reaches beyond the pastoral setting of Coles Hill, putting at odds the prospects for economic development and the protection of future generations from radioactive waste should a man-made or natural disaster occur at Coles Hill if mining were allowed to take place.