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Report cites benefits of Va. uranium mining

Also notes environmental risks

Lifting a decades-long ban on uranium mining could generate more than 1,000 jobs and have an annual economic impact of $135 million, should the hot button-issue of tapping a site in Southside Virginia move forward, according to a study from a Richmond-based economic forecasting firm.

The 179-page report from Chmura Economics and Analytics assumes that the site would be operated and dismantled within established federal guidelines and concludes that the potential impact on real estate values would be "minimal."

Virginia Uranium Inc. wants the General Assembly to lift a 30-year moratorium on uranium mining in the state so that it can tap into an estimated 119-million-pound site in Pittsylvania County - considered to be one of the world's largest untapped sources of the radioactive element widely used in nuclear reactors.

"This moves us one step closer toward energy independence for America and the energy security and economic benefits that it brings," said Ray Ganthner, president of the Virginia Energy Independence Alliance.

Opponents, however, vociferously oppose lifting the ban, citing environmental and public health concerns.

"We really think what this does is it highlights the concerns we've been voicing all along," said Rob Marmet, senior energy policy analyst with the Piedmont Environmental Council.

The Chmura analysis, prepared for the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission, came with a number of caveats. It concluded that a "baseline" scenario with a moderate environmental impact on water, air, noise and soil quality was more likely to occur than others, but that the risks and rewards were not balanced. In essence, the negative economic impact in the event of severe environmental damage was twice as large as the positive impact in the best-case scenario of negligible environmental impact.

The issue has drawn heightened scrutiny after Virginia Uranium flew about a dozen state legislators to France in June to inspect a closed mine in the western part of the country where uranium was mined for about 50 years, until the late 1990s. Legislators and members of the public were also treated to a fact-finding trip to Canada in September by the company.

But lawmakers are also awaiting results from a National Academy of Sciences study, paid for by Virginia Tech with funds from Virginia Uranium, analyzing the environmental and public health effects of mining.

Sen. John C. Watkins, Powhatan Republican and member of the subcommittee devoted to the issue, said that a lot depended on the results of that report.

"There's a tremendous amount of work to be done, even if the moratorium were to be lifted," said Mr. Watkins, who took the trip to Canada in September. "It's not something that cannot be adequately safeguarded. ... That's been proven."

Still, there have been conflicting studies within the state. One conducted for the city of Virginia Beach found that uranium mining, processing and toxic waste storage upstream from Virginia Beach could contaminate the city's water supply for as long as two years, though a subsequent report commissioned by Virginia Uranium challenged those findings.

More recently, a study released in September by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said that "pervasive flooding" regularly occurs throughout the site, which would increase the risk of radioactive contamination if the site is eventually used to store uranium.

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