Sunday, December 18, 2011

Report provides uranium discussion framework

By: Tara Bozick |
Published: December 16, 2011 Updated: December 16, 2011 - 7:04 PM

For residents who need to get caught up on the uranium debate, a recently released report is a handy introduction and guide for how to think about or discuss the complex issues.

About 125 people came to hear the key findings of RTI International’s report on the potential socioeconomic impacts of uranium mining in the Dan River Region at the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Friday.

Danville Regional Foundation paid $530,000 for the independent study, as Virginia Uranium Inc. would like lawmakers to lift a 30-year moratorium so the company could mine and mill a 119-million-pound uranium deposit at Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County.

“The bottom line is this is a very complicated, high risk, high stakes question,” said study project manager Katherine Heller of RTI in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

New jobs and higher incomes could enhance the region, but that comes with the risk of environmental contamination, even if VUI does everything right, she added. On top of that, the region risks the perceived quality of the area being damaged, even if there’s no evidence.

Regional industries that rely on water, like agriculture, tourism, food and beverage manufacturing and chemical manufacturing, would have the most costs associated with negative perceptions, Sinha said.

Collaboration between the company, regulators and residents would be needed to prevent or mitigate any environmental impacts, said environmental scientist Michael Lowry. That’s in addition to knowing pre-mining conditions, using the best technology and practices and continual pollution monitoring.

Ongoing monitoring, demonstration of limited impacts and openness and transparency would also mitigate inaccurate negative perceptions, Heller said.

Dr. Gary Miller, a Danville councilman, asked about the potential net loss of jobs if the uranium project chased away business. He also wanted more information on miner safety and estimated health costs.

He’ll use this study along with others to come to a final conclusion on the uranium question. He worries the project is a gamble when just one accidental release of contamination could cause harm to the region.

“You’ve got to make sure the benefits are way up here and the risks are way down here,” Miller said, gesturing with his hands.

Halifax Town Councilman Bill Confroy asked if Virginia had the capacity to monitor uranium mining and what the cost would be. The report estimated that Virginia would need to hire between 10 and 20 additional employees with specialized expertise, which could cost between $2 million and $5 million.

DRF President and CEO Karl Stauber acknowledged that the study could not answer all questions, but that it provides a comprehensive overview of uranium risks and rewards and injects analysis into the public discussion.

To view the report and presentation, visit For questions about the study, call Patrick Gibbons at (919) 541-6136 or email

More reaction to the report

» The Roanoke River Basin Association and League of Individuals for the Environment, Inc. said in a statement that while the study relied on estimates of economic benefits provided by VUI, it also shows how the region’s water levels are at risk.

“Further, we believe that a series of public hearings should be held throughout the state on a monthly basis for the next 18 months by an unbiased commission. Only fools rush in on a matter this monumental,” said RRBA Executive Director Andrew Lester in a statement.

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