Friday, August 6, 2010

National Research Council names committee for uranium study

By TIM DAVIS/Star-Tribune Editor
Wednesday, August 4, 2010 8:56 AM EDT

The National Research Council has named a 13-member provisional committee for a scientific study of uranium mining in Virginia.

Proposed committee members include:

Dr. Joaquin Ruiz, University of Arizona;
Dr. Corby G. Anderson, Colorado School of Mines;
Dr. Lawrence W. Barnthouse, LWB Environmental Services Inc.;
Dr. Scott C. Brooks, Oak Ridge National Laboratory;
Dr. Patricia A. Buffler, University of California, Berkeley;
Dr. Michel Cuney, National Center for Scientific Research;
Dr. Peter L. deFur, Environmental Stewardship Concept;
Dr. Mary R. English, University of Tennessee, Knoxville;
Dr. R. William Field, University of Iowa College of Public Health;
Dr. Jill Lipoti, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection;
Dr. Paul A. Locke, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health;
Henry Schnell, Areva Inc.;
Dr. Jeffrey J. Wong, California Environmental Protection Agency.

Nominations have been posted on the council's website ( and on the interim website ( for a 20-day public comment period.

"This committee will initially be provisional, so that any issues identified during the 20-day public comment period can be addressed, and also so that the committee members can undergo our thorough bias and conflict of interest procedures," said the study's director, David Feary.

Committee members are required to complete background information and conflict of interest disclosure forms, and continue to be screened for conflict of interest throughout the life of the study, he said.

In addition, a committee is not finally approved until a thorough "balance and conflict of interest discussion" is held at the first meeting, and any issues raised in that discussion or by the public are investigated and addressed.

According to the council, it is important that the committee include the appropriate range of expertise for the task.

"One of the strengths of the National Academies is the tradition of bringing together recognized experts from diverse disciplines and backgrounds who might not otherwise collaborate," the council said. "These diverse groups are encouraged to conceive new ways of thinking about a problem."

The council's website outlines the committee appointment process, noting, the "selection of appropriate committee members, individually and collectively, is essential for the success of a study."

"The goal is to pick a committee with the expertise to carry out the objectives of the study and also be balanced from a scientific perspective," said William Kearney, a spokesman for the National Research Council in Washington, D.C.

Contract with Virginia Tech

The National Research Council signed a contract for the long-awaited study with Virginia Tech in February.

The university will serve as a conduit for funding from Virginia Uranium Inc., which has agreed to pay for the $1.4 million study.

Virginia Uranium announced plans three years ago to explore mining uranium at Coles Hill, about six miles northeast of Chatham.

Scope of study

The National Research Council presented its recommendations for a study in May 2009 to the Virginia Commission on Coal and Energy's Uranium Mining Subcommittee.

The subcommittee, chaired by Del. Lee Ware of Powhatan, voted 8-2 to approve a framework for the study and made public safety a top priority.

According to the National Research Council's "Statement of Task," the study will "examine the scientific, technical, environmental, human health and safety, and regulatory aspects of uranium mining, milling, and processing as they relate to the Commonwealth of Virginia for the purpose of assisting the commonwealth to determine whether uranium mining, milling, and processing can be undertaken in a manner that safeguards the environment, natural and historic resources, agricultural lands, and the health and well-being of its citizens."

In particular, the study will:

_ Assess the potential short- and long-term occupational and public health and safety considerations from uranium mining, milling, processing, and reclamation, including the potential human health risks from exposure to "daughter" products of radioactive decay of uranium.

_ Review global and national uranium market trends.

_ Identify and briefly describe the main types of uranium deposits worldwide including, for example, geologic characteristics, mining operations, and best practices.

_ Analyze the impact of uranium mining, milling, processing, and reclamation operations on public health, safety, and the environment at sites with comparable geologic, hydrologic, climatic, and population characteristics to those found in the commonwealth. Such analysis shall describe any available mitigating measures to reduce or eliminate the negative impacts from uranium operations.

_ Review the geologic, environmental, geographic, climatic, and cultural settings and exploration status of uranium resources in Virginia.

_ Review the primary technical options and best practices approaches for uranium mining, milling, processing, and reclamation that might be applicable within Virginia, including discussion of improvements made since 1980 in the design, construction, and monitoring of tailings impoundments ("cells").

_ Review the state and federal regulatory framework for uranium mining, milling, processing, and reclamation.

_ Review federal requirements for secure handling of uranium materials, including personnel, transportation, site security, and material control and accountability.

_ Identify the issues that may need to be considered regarding the quality and quantity of groundwater and surface water, and the quality of soil and air from uranium mining, milling, processing, and reclamation. As relevant, water and waste management and severe weather effects or other stochastic events may also be considered.

_ Assess the potential ecosystem issues for uranium mining, milling, processing, and reclamation.

_ Identify baseline data and approaches necessary to monitor environmental and human impacts associated with uranium mining, milling, processing, and reclamation.

_ Provide a non-technical summary of the report for public education purposes (for example, health and safety issues, inspection and enforcement, community right-to-know, emergency planning).

The National Research Council, however, will not offer recommendations on whether uranium mining should be permitted, and the study will not include "site-specific" assessments.

That decision will be left to the General Assembly, which placed a moratorium on uranium mining in 1982.

Read more: