Study to examine uranium mining

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A study requested by the General Assembly may offer a clue to the future of uranium mining in Southern Virginia, a divisive issue in the region.

The National Research Council (NRC), an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, has tentatively agreed to conduct a study of the safety and feasibility of uranium mining in the commonwealth.

The study was prompted by a proposal by Virginia Uranium Inc. to mine and mill a 119 million pound deposit of uranium ore near Chatham in Pittsylvania County. The uranium is estimated to be worth $8 billion to $10 billion. For mining to begin, the legislature would have to overturn a ban imposed in the early 1980s.

Virginia Uranium and its supporters argue that the mining operation would be a boon to the regional economy and the state’s growing nuclear energy industry. The company says that, depending on the type of mining operation used, it would eventually employ 300 to 500 workers.

Opponents have raised concerns about pollution to streams and farms. Southern Hampton Roads, for example, draws much of its water from Lake Gaston, which is downstream from the proposed site. Opponents also worry that uranium mining would damage efforts to attract young professionals to the region.

The NRC study will look at uranium mining operations in places around the world that resemble Virginia in population and weather conditions. (Uranium mining sites in the U.S. are in dry areas, which don’t offer a good comparison.)

The study, which will take 18 months, will not be the final word on the issue. It will only provide information for the legislature to consider in lifting or maintaining the ban. 

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