Date: Dec. 19, 2011
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Report Identifies Health, Environmental Issues, and Best Practices To Mitigate Some Risks if
"Internationally accepted best practices, which include timely and meaningful public participation, are available to mitigate some of the risks involved," said Paul Locke, chair of the committee that wrote the report and associate professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore. "However, there are still many unknowns."
The committee concluded that if Virginia lifts its moratorium, there are "steep hurdles to be surmounted" before mining and processing could take place within a regulatory setting that appropriately protects workers, the public, and the environment, especially given that the state has no experience regulating mining and processing of the radioactive element.
The study was requested by the
The committee was not asked to recommend whether uranium mining should be permitted, or to consider the potential benefits to the state were uranium mining to be pursued. It also was not asked to compare the relative risks of uranium mining to the mining of other fuels such as coal.
Should the ban be lifted, uranium mining and processing are unlikely to begin for at least five to eight years after the initial granting of a license, the report says. This period of time should be used to build a robust regulatory and management culture focused on safety and citizen involvement. The experience of
Although the committee was not asked to specifically assess the suitability of the Coles Hill site, it said the Coles Hill uranium deposit is large enough and of a high enough grade to have the potential to be economically viable. The
Extensive site-specific evaluations would be required to determine the most appropriate mining and processing methods for each uranium deposit, the committee said. Geological exploration to date indicates that uranium deposits in
Some of the worker and public health risks could be mitigated or better controlled through modern internationally accepted best practices, the report says. In addition, if uranium mining, processing, and reclamation were designed, constructed, operated, and monitored according to best practices, near- to moderate-term environmental effects should be substantially reduced, the report says. Nevertheless, such activities in
The report says less is known about the long-term environmental risks of uranium tailings, the solid waste left after processing. Tailings disposal sites represent potential sources of contamination for thousands of years. While it is likely that tailings impoundment sites would be safe for at least 200 years if designed and built according to modern best practices, the long-term risks of radioactive contaminant release are unknown.
Taking the full life cycle of uranium mining and cleanup into consideration when planning a uranium mining and processing facility is one of three overarching best-practice concepts that are recognized and applied by the international uranium mining and processing community, according to the committee. The second is that any uranium mining project should use the expertise and experience of professionals familiar with internationally accepted best practices and who represent all aspects of a project including legal, environmental, health, monitoring, safety, and engineering elements. The third concept is the need for meaningful and timely public participation throughout the life cycle of a project. This would require creating an environment in which members of the public are both informed about, and can comment upon, any decisions that could impact their community.
The study questions were provided by the
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Pre-publication copies of Uranium Mining in Virginia are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).
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NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Earth and Life Studies
Board on Earth Sciences and Resources
Water Science and Technology Board
Committee on Uranium Mining in
Paul A. Locke (chair)
Department of Environmental Health Sciences
Kroll Institute for Extractive Metallurgy
George S. Ansell Dept. of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering
President and Principal Scientist
LWB Environmental Services Inc.
Paul D. Blanc
Professor of Medicine and
Endowed Chair of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
Scott C. Brooks
Environmental Sciences Division
Patricia A. Buffler
Professor of Epidemiology;
Dean Emerita; and
Kenneth and Marjorie Kaiser Endowed Chair
Genesis Management of Mineral Resources
Peter L. deFur
Environmental Stewardship Concepts
Mary R. English
Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment
Keith N. Eshleman
R. William Field
Departments of Occupational and Environmental Health and Epidemiology
Division of Water Monitoring and Standards
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
Technical Authority Senior Expert
Expertise and Technical Department
Mining Business Unit
Areva Inc. (Retired)
Jeffrey J. Wong
Department of Toxic Substances Control
California Environmental Protection Agency
RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF