Proposed Virginia Uranium Mine Would Set New Safety Standard

Published October 18, 2012

Virginia Uranium, Inc. is planning to implement unprecedented environmental safety measures that would protect area groundwater even under the harshest of conditions.

The mining company proposes to recover uranium from a 119 million pound uranium ore deposit on private land in Pittsylvania County. The deposit, the largest known undeveloped uranium deposit in the United States, is in south-central Virginia near Chatham, north of Danville. The mining will be conducted underground, which will provide extra environmental protection versus traditional open pit mining. The tailings, crushed granite rock left over after the uranium is removed from the ore, will be stored below-grade in accordance with international best practices and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission preferred placement, which removes any chance of large bulk spillage.

Multiple Layers of Review

For the mine to be built, the Virginia General Assembly would first have to lift a 30-year moratorium on uranium mining in the state. After that, Virginia Uranium would have to satisfy the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and state regulators that the mine would be structurally sound and environmentally safe.

Underground Storage

Placement of the tailings below grade in accordance with international best practices and current regulation will ensure that no mined material could be released into the environment. To gaurantee the highest possible level of environmental safety, the tailings will ultimately be stored back in the same geologic structure that held them contained for millions of years. Additionally, a binding agent would be added to turn the tailings back into immobilized hard rock.

The Virginia Department of Health is currently holding forums around the state to solicit citizen comment regarding the proposed mine and mill. The department will then put together a final report due in December setting forth its recommendations.

“The mining, milling, and utilization of uranium present an unparalleled record of safety in this country,” said Jay Lehr, science director for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News. “The human health and environmental safety record of uranium mining and nuclear power production is especially impressive when compared to alternative power options. Solar power is a conservationist’s nightmare, requiring the development of vast amounts of land to generate even a small amount of expensive, unreliable power. Wind power has the same environmental shortcomings, plus it kills hundreds of thousands of birds and bats each year, including many protected species, while producing just a couple percent of our nation’s power.

“From a scientific perspective, the proposed mine meets and exceeds all applicable human health and environmental standards,” said Lehr.

“Multiple layers of federal and state regulation will ensure uranium is mined safely in Virginia, as it is elsewhere,” Lehr explained.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.