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VUI reaffirms commitment to protect environment, health

Virginia Uranium Inc. reaffirmed its strong commitment to protecting the environment and health of the community during a Wednesday afternoon press conference held in Chatham.

The press event was held prior to the fifth public forum scheduled by the Uranium Working Group in Chatham later that evening. Created by Gov. Bob McDonnell, the working group’s meeting centered on public safety, environmental issues and a regulatory framework that would be needed if Virginia ended a 30-year ban on uranium mining.

A legislative moratorium prohibiting uranium mining in the state has been in place since 1982, and the issue of lifting the ban was revisited in 2007 when the price of uranium increased significantly, renewing business interest in mining.

Virginia Uranium Inc. has developed plans to initiate mining and processing uranium at the Coles Hill Site in neighboring Pittsylvania County.

The Coles Hill deposit was discovered in the early 1980s approximately six miles northeast of Chatham. The deposit’s value has been estimated at $7 billion. Several years ago, Walter Coles Sr. and Henry Bowen – the major landowners - formed Virginia Uranium Inc. to mine the uranium.

 “Far more than just a professional commitment, ours is a deeply personal commitment to the community in which we all live and are raising our families,” said Virginia Uranium Inc. Project Manager Patrick Wales on Wednesday.

“We fully understand that the economic promise of our project means nothing if we don’t do it in a safe and responsible way. We understand that some members of our community still have concerns. We share those concerns,” Wales added.

He addressed the four most frequently expressed concerns Virginia Uranium Inc. has heard from the community.

* First and foremost, people are concerned about protecting water resources.

Wales said on this concern, the National Academy of Sciences study was clear: modern industry practices and regulations have been very successful at protecting water near uranium mining operations in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere throughout the world.

“Just ask the Canadians, who have safely mined uranium for more than 30 years in wet climates similar to Virginia. Since modern practices and regulations were put in place 30 years ago, the Canadian government says there has been no negative impact on groundwater or surface waters near their uranium mining operations,” he added.

Today in Elliot Lake, Canada a retirement community thrives where a uranium mining town once stood, according to Wales, who added, “tourists flock from across North America to its world-class fishing, boating and other outdoor recreational activities.”

* Second, people want to know the agricultural economy will remain strong.

On this concern, Wales said the Virginia Coal & Energy Commission's official socioeconomic study was clear: “Our project will not negatively impact agriculture in our region.”

Just ask the dairy farmers in Bessines, France, where uranium was safely mined for 50 years without negative impacts on their business. Or ask the cattle ranchers in South Texas, who have thrived alongside uranium mining for decades, he continued.

“These are not hypothetical scenarios. These are real world experiences that show uranium mining and agriculture can co-exist and thrive together,” according to Wales.

* Third, the community wants to continue to attract diverse economic opportunities.

Wales said some in the community have claimed uranium mining will place a 'stigma' on the region, making it more difficult to recruit new businesses or maybe even students for local private schools.

“The facts on this last concern could not be clearer,” Wales said. “The Virginia Coal & Energy Commission's official socioeconomic study concluded that the Coles Hill project poses no threat to our private schools.”
Researchers from George Mason University also spent two years looking at the economic experiences of uranium mining communities throughout the U.S.

After two years of exhaustive study, Wales said, “They did not find one iota of evidence that uranium mining negatively impacted property values, businesses or tourism in those regions.”

* Fourth and finally, people want to be reassured there will be safe long-term storage of mill tailings.

Today, modern uranium mines store tailings below ground where they cannot be released to surface waters and are isolated from flooding, storms and other adverse weather conditions, according to Wales. They are also heavily-lined to prevent any contact with groundwater.

The National Academy of Sciences and regulators in the U.S. and Canada all agree that storing tailings below ground eliminates the risk of releases to groundwater and surface waters, he added.

“Our company is fully committed to adopting this modern below-ground method of tailings disposal so that we eliminate the possibility that mill tailings could harm the water in our community,” Wales said.

He maintained the environmental performance of the uranium mining industry over the last 30 years proves that Virginia Uranium Inc. can do this safely and in a way that protects the environment.

“Our company is fully committed to continuing this outstanding track record and operating the safest uranium mine in the world,” he concluded.