Uranium Miners Grapple With Environmental Roadblocks In The United States

Uranium Miners Grapple with Environmental Roadblocks in the United States

The Uranium Working Group (UWG), commissioned by Republican Governor Bob McDonnell to study the creation of a potential policy and regulatory framework for uranium mining in the state of Virginia, has submitted its findings in a 125-page report to the state's Coal and Energy Commission. The year-long study — conducted by staff from Virginia's Department of Health, Department of Environmental Quality  and Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy — follows years of aggressive lobbying by Virginia Uranium, which holds the Coles Hill uranium deposit located in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

Coles Hill, first discovered in 1978, reportedly contains measured resources of 3,260 tonnes of U3O8 and indicated resources of 42,800t U308. The largest-known untapped uranium deposit in the United States and one of the largest in the world, Coles Hill has an estimated worth of $10 billion and holds enough uranium to power all the nation's nuclear plants for nearly two years.

Virginia banned uranium mining in 1982, but an exploration permit on the Coles Hill property was granted to Virginia Uranium in 2007. Since then, the company has been actively pushing legislators to lift the ban, donating more than $150,000 to political campaigns in the state last year. The company has also retained five influential lobbying and public-relations firms.

The UWG report doesn't advocate for or against uranium mining in the state of Virginia; rather, it examines the long-term storage of radioactive ore and the regulatory structure necessary to manage uranium mining. It also looks at the air and water monitoring that would be necessary to protect the environment and public health. The UWG recommends permitting and licensing fees as well as a possible tax on mining companies to pay for regulation costs.