The Governor of Virginia has called on the state's General Assembly not to take any action this year on lifting the state's 30-year moratorium on uranium mining, allowing further studies to be conducted before a decision is made.
Governor Bob McDonnell said that Virginia's moratorium should remain in place in 2012 "to allow us time to further evaluate the law and science concerning the mining of uranium, so that the legislature can make well informed policy decisions in the future.
"While uranium mining could mean the creation of high-paying jobs for our citizens, a boost for the important nuclear power industry, increase economic development for the region, and the generation of significant tax revenue for the entire Commonwealth, we must prudently study this issue to ensure that such mining would not impair the health of our people, or the condition of our environment."
Governor Bob McDonnell
The National Research Council - the operating arm of the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and National Academy of Engineering - was commissioned to provide an independent review of the scientific, environmental, human health and safety, and regulatory aspects of uranium mining, processing, and reclamation in Virginia by the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission in 2010. It reported its findings in December 2011, concluding that Virginia's lack of experience with modern underground and open pit uranium mining and processing is one of the major problems to overcome if uranium mining is to take place in the state. Likewise, Virginia does not currently have a suitable structure in place to regulate uranium mining.
The report noted that only the Coles Hill uranium deposit appears to have the potential to be economically viable, and that underground or open-pit mining would be the probable methods of extraction for uranium deposits in Virginia. Many of the technical aspects of uranium mining would therefore be essentially the same as for other types of hard rock mining, albeit with the additional factor of radiation protection. Worker and public health risks could be mitigated through "modern internationally accepted best practices."
According to the NAS report, "At present, there are gaps in legal and regulatory coverage for activities involved in uranium mining, processing, reclamation and long-term stewardship. Some of these gaps have resulted from the moratorium on uranium mining that Virginia has in place; others are gaps in current laws or regulations, or in the way that they are applied."
McDonnell noted, "Over the past month I, along with members of our administration, have analyzed the NAS report on uranium mining in the Commonwealth in great detail. We have spoken with local legislators, agency heads, scientists as well as business and community leaders in and around the potential mining region." He added, "The NAS study, while broadly helpful, left many questions still unanswered. Some of those questions can only be answered through an on-site evaluation of Coles Hill and the surrounding area."
"While uranium mining could mean the creation of high-paying jobs for our citizens, a boost for the important nuclear power industry, increase economic development for the region, and the generation of significant tax revenue for the entire Commonwealth, we must prudently study this issue to ensure that such mining would not impair the health of our people, or the condition of our environment," McDonnell said. "A more thorough and on-site review of the issue" should take place before any action is taken, McDonnell said. He called for a working group to be set up by the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy; the Department of Environmental Quality; and the Virginia Department of Health to "develop a draft regulatory framework for presentation to the Coal and Energy Commission next year."
The Coles Hill uranium deposit was first discovered in 1978 and 2008 NI 43-101 figures showed it to contain measured resources of 3260 tU and indicated resources of 42,800 tU. Virginia Uranium Inc, headed by the Coles family in whose ancestral land the deposit lies, has been lobbying in association with Virginia Energy Resources Inc for permission to mine the deposit since 2007. The company welcomed the Governor's decision, calling it "an important step toward establishing a regulatory framework that will enable our company to build an operate the safest uranium mine in the world right here in Virginia."
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News