Saturday, October 30, 2010

Scientific uranium study kicks off/ Uranium study committee assesses knowledge gaps

Uranium study committee assesses knowledge gaps


Published: October 27, 2010

WASHINGTON — Studying the various issues enveloping uranium mining in Virginia won’t be easy.

Meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Keck Center in Washington served as information-gathering sessions so the committee could begin carrying out its charge — to offer independent scientific advice that state leaders could use to decide whether uranium mining could be done safely and responsibly in Virginia.

While the study is statewide in scope, Virginia’s geologic features vary. Additionally, not much has been studied in the way of the state’s water.

On top of that, each hypothetical mining or milling site would feature different characteristics and would need site-specific studies.

“You’re all starting from scratch pretty much,” David Nelms, groundwater specialist with the USGS Virginia Water Science Center, told the committee. Few hydrogeology studies were conducted in Virginia, he said.

“Geology is very important,” he said. “Everybody has talked about how complex it is in Virginia. Well, add hydro to geology and it makes it even more complicated.”

If leaders are trying to prevent adverse environmental effects from uranium mining or milling, it’s important to know the delivery system, Nelms said.

Groundwater supplies the majority of stream flow.

James Otton with the U.S. Geological Survey, told committee members that Virginia has various geologic “terranes” because the continent kept breaking up and reassembling itself. The collisions between the blocks of crust resulted in sheared rock.

Most of the uranium occurrences with “resource potential” in Virginia appear in this sheared rock, Otton said. He cited 55 known occurrences of uranium in Virginia, as reported by geologist William Lassetter.

Sheared rock also hosts the 119-million-pound uranium ore body at Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County — the “elephant deposit” in Virginia, Otton said. Virginia Uranium Inc. proposes to mine and mill that uranium deposit.

Yet, geologists don’t know how the Coles Hill uranium ore body formed, he said. So, they don’t know if Coles Hill is incidentally unique, or if uranium could occur in places with similar conditions.

Seal analyzed what the Coles Hill waste rock would look like using rock core samples taken during exploration drilling.

Element concentrations that would exceed environmental guidelines are uranium and vanadium, he said. Removal of the uranium would return the soil toward environmental guidelines.

“We’re trying to educate decision makers on potential risks and potential solutions for challenges as they come up,” Seal said.

Norm Reynolds, a director on the board for Virginia Energy Resources (an investor in Virginia Uranium Inc.), offered the company’s data to the committee. Reynolds, a geologist, was on the team that discovered the Coles Hill deposit for Marline Uranium Corp., which abandoned the project during the 1980s.

Cale Jaffe, senior attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center, reminded the committee that Virginia had a moratorium on uranium mining and milling since 1982.

Jaffe asked the committee to consider environmental and public health impacts from potential increased activity if Virginia mills uranium mined from other states.

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Scientific uranium study kicks off

Published: October 26, 2010

WASHINGTON — The first meeting of the provisional committee conducting a scientific study of uranium mining in Virginia kicked off Tuesday.

The Uranium Mining Subcommittee of the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission asked the National Academy of Sciences to conduct the study to offer independent scientific advice so state leaders could determine whether uranium mining could be done safely and responsibly in Virginia.

Delegate R. Lee Ware, Jr., chair of the subcommittee, emphasized to the provisional committee members the scientific study is a statewide study.

“Obviously, any decision we make will have consequences across the commonwealth regarding uranium mining,” Ware said.

The study is due to be completed by December 2011.

Although Virginia has had a moratorium on uranium mining since 1982, Virginia Uranium Inc. proposes to mine and mill a 119-million-pound uranium ore deposit in Pittsylvania County.

Tuesday’s meeting helped provisional committee members gather more information to do the study. The committee has not been finalized yet, said Jennifer Walsh, NAS spokeswoman.

Four of the 13 provisional committee members — Jill Lipoti, Corby Anderson, Michel Cuney and Patricia Buffler — were absent.

Karmis reviewed the study scope or committee’s “statement of task,” which includes scientific, technical, environmental, human health and safety aspects.

The statement of task also includes a review of Virginia’s uranium resources and exploration statuses, Karmis said.

This helps the experts in studying their geologic, environmental and climatic aspects. It could also help Virginia identify resource opportunities, Ware said.

The public will be able to participate in town hall meetings regarding the scientific study in Danville in December and in Richmond in February.

Several Pittsylvania County residents opposed to uranium mining in Virginia came to the meeting.

Phillip Lovelace, a Pittsylvania County farmer who raises cattle for beef, emphasized the need to pay special attention to hydrology. He doesn’t want to see Virginia’s waters damaged.

“We face devastation in this community if it gets in their drinking water,” Lovelace told the committee.

He doesn’t think regulations go far enough to protect the public or environment.

“There’s a lot of ‘if’s’ in this yet,” he said.

Olga Kolotushkina, representing the Roanoke River Basin Association, noted the implications the study would have for the state and asked committee members to take the study seriously and examine any perceived conflicts of interest.

“It’s not just about Southside. It’s not just about Coles Hill,” she said

Cale Jaffe, senior attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center, was glad to see the committee would examine “severe weather effects,” as noted in the statement of task.

He would like to know more about disaster preparedness and ways to secure the site during an event like a hurricane and consequences of failing to do so.

Jaffe said the BP oil spill in the Gulf showed people that things don’t always go according to industry plans.

The meeting continues Wednesday.

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