A company proposing to mine uranium in Southern Virginia promised Tuesday to store radioactive waste from its operations in below-ground containment cells to prevent pollution of regional water supplies.
Patrick Wales, the project manager of Virginia Uranium Inc. (VUI), made the pledge at a news conference in Virginia Beach, the commonwealth’s largest city. A city study raised concerns that a catastrophic storm could wash tailings (crushed rock left over in the uranium milling process) from its proposed site in Pittsylvania County into Lake Gaston. The lake supplies water to Virginia Beach.
VUI wants Virginia to lift a 30-year ban on uranium mining in the commonwealth to gain access to a 119-million-pound deposit in Pittsylvania’s Coles Hill community.
The Uranium Working Group, a state panel, was holding its fourth public meeting in Virginia Beach to discuss its plans for monitoring water and air quality should uranium mining be allowed. The group is expected to report to the General Assembly before the end of the year.
Wales said the concerns of Virginia Beach residents “are based on the fundamental question of how our company will store mill tailings at Coles Hill – whether we will store the tailings in above-ground impoundments that could be susceptible to releases caused by heavy storms or flooding, or whether we will store them in below-grade, or below-ground, containment cells that eliminate the risk of releases to surface waters. Today, Virginia Uranium is restating our company’s firm commitment to storing all tailings below grade, or below ground, at Coles Hill.”
According to Wales, tailings would be mixed with a cement-like substance to ensure that they are immobile and then placed in underground pits or cells. These cells would be above the flood plain and double-lined with clay and synthetic liners to prevent seepage into the soil or groundwater, he said. The cells would be topped with multi-layer clay and earthen covers.
Wales said that even in a worst-case scenario –“a scenario that experts have agreed is impossible under our company’s plans” – Norfolk water treatment facilities serving Virginia Beach “are capable of treating and removing any contaminants and delivering drinking water to the residents of Norfolk and Virginia Beach well within the EPA’s safe drinking water standards.”
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