Friday, December 30, 2011

Clearing up some misconceptions of uranium mining study

Comment:  Thanks for all your hard work!  Keep the Ban!
Published: June 17, 2011

Certain misconceptions about the National Academy of Sciences study of uranium mining currently under way require clarification.

First, the NAS study is simply not designed to give a definite answer to the crucial question of whether uranium mining can be done safely in Virginia. Instead, the scope of the NAS study calls for secondary research, a review of the literature and experiences with uranium mining elsewhere. The statement of work explicitly states that "the study will not make recommendations about whether or not uranium mining should be permitted nor will the study include site-specific assessments."

This is not a reflection on the National Academy of Sciences or on the qualifications of individual members on the uranium mining panel. In most cases, NAS studies are designed to provide definite answers to questions posed by study sponsors. For example, the National Academy of Sciences' 2005 study of Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation resulted in a very definite conclusion that even very low doses of radiation can cause cancer, and that 1 in 100 people will get cancer if exposed to the allowable "safe" dose set for the general public under current federal regulations. Another related study under way at the NAS is expected to propose in December a specific methodology for quantifying cancer risks in populations living around nuclear facilities.

Whether or not an NAS study results in a definite answer to specific questions depends on the scope of work; and the scope of work is proposed by a study sponsor. The official sponsor of the uranium mining study is Virginia Tech, which is paid $300,000 by Virginia Uranium Inc. as compensation for funneling $1.4 million to the NAS to cover the study expenses, since the National Academy's Academ policy does not favor funding from for-profit entities. It is Virginia Tech that took the lead in developing the scope of work for the ongoing uranium mining study and managed to get most of its nominees appointed to the uranium panel.

The question is: Why doesn't the NAS study's scope of work ask for a definite answer to the only question that really matters — whether uranium can be mined and milled safely in Virginia? Maybe because the answer to this question would be too simple, as uranium mining has consistently resulted in irreparable damage to the environment, local economy and communities.

As a result of this omission in the study scope, instead of concentrating on the crucial question of safety, the NAS uranium mining panel spent a whole day during its last public meeting in Canada listening to presentations by two giants of the uranium mining industry, Areva and Cameco. A world-renowned expert in nuclear and radioactive materials proposed as a speaker for that meeting by citizen groups representing hundreds of citizens, businesses and municipalities was rejected by the NAS, leaving the communities that will be most affected by proposed uranium mining without any representation at the meeting a thousand miles away.

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