Tuesday, November 8, 2011By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
A hydrogeologist from Colorado said Monday night that the uranium mining and milling industry has a history of contaminating water resources.
Robert E. Moran added that he is not aware of modern technology in that industry having a track record of adequately protecting water resources today.
Moran gave a talk and answered questions in a program that lasted more than an hour at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. Nearly 50 people attended the talk, titled “Uranium Mining: What You Need to Know.” The Dan River Basin Association, an environmental group, sponsored it.
Moran said he was not saying that what has happened historically in the uranium mining and milling industry would happen under Virginia Uranium Inc.’s proposal to mine and mill uranium at Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County. He said there are many unknowns about the proposed operation, the company should make more information public, and the public should be asking questions.
“You need to think about long term, not short term. It’s your kids and your grandkids that will have to deal with this,” Moran said of the potential consequences of uranium mining and milling.
damage caused by contaminated waste being blown by wind.
Among the points he made about the uranium mining and milling industry were:
• Most operations that he is aware of are in drier, more sparsely populated areas.
• Governments generally do not require large enough bonds of mining and milling companies to cover the perpetual costs of the site, including environmental cleanup and maintaining the site forever. He said those costs can be “phenomenal.”
After an operation closes, the ownership of the site is given to the federal government.
• Governments generally inadequately enforce regulations on the industry intended to protect the public.
• The industry goes through economic boom and bust cycles. A company may plan to operate a number of decades but close after only a few years if the price of uranium plummets.
• There always are environmental impacts from mining and milling, and it may be many years before the impacts are known. That doesn’t mean necessarily that a proposed operation should be rejected, but that the “tradeoffs” should be weighed.
• He is not aware of any uranium Super Fund hazardous waste site in which a contaminated groundwater supply was totally cleaned up.