Monday, August 23, 2010

Make-up of uranium study panel scrutinized / August 23, 2010

The makeup of the National Academy of Sciences uranium study panel — criticized by mining opponents as stacked in favor of the industry — has attracted the scrutiny of two river basin organizations who say the selections should be reviewed.

The Roanoke River Basin Association and the Dan River Basin Association issued a joint statement this weekend recommending that the National Academy of Sciences investigate the backgrounds and professional relationships of several appointees to the provisional committee and consider naming other members with backgrounds in hydrology, human health and other fields.

The associations urged a review of the committee membership, tabbed earlier this month, “to ensure no conflicts of interest.

“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 Academies’ responsibility to ensure that the study process is conducted in a most transparent manner with an ample opportunity for public comment,” added Gene Addesso, Vice President of the Roanoke River Basin Association.

The basin associations acted after several picks to the panel came under fire from mining opponents, notably the choice of Henry Schnell, a technical authority in the Expertise & Technical Department in the Mining Business Unit with Areva NC Inc. Areva also has operations in Lynchburg that potentially could benefit from a mine operation at the Coles Hill site in Pittsylvania County.

At present Virginia has a statewide moratorium against uranium mining.

“Two national environmental groups, Clean Water Action and Natural Resources Defense Council, raise similar concerns regarding the composition of the provisional uranium mining study committee in their separate comments,” the associations stated.

The basin association statement continues:

“Proposed uranium mining has been a controversial issue in the Commonwealth of 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 uranium mining ban were resumed in 2007 when the price of uranium spiked on global markets. Since then uranium mining has been an issue of utmost concern for the communities that may potentially be affected by uranium mining. Historically, uranium companies have shown interest in uranium in Culpeper, Fauquier, Franklin, Floyd, Henry, Madison, Nelson, Orange, Patrick, and Pittsylvania Counties and leased mineral rights on approximately 50,000 acres in the 1980s. Downstream from these areas, counties and municipalities whose drinking water could be affected by uranium mill tailings include Brunswick, Fairfax, Halifax, Mecklenburg, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, and the communities in North Carolina.

“If the uranium mining ban is lifted, there would likely be exploration for uranium not only in Chatham, but also 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.

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