Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2009

Coal and Energy Commission: Uranium Mining Subcommittee

March 24, 2009

The Commission on Coal and Energy’s Uranium Mining Subcommittee met in Richmond on March 24, 2009, with Delegate Ware, chairman of the Uranium Mining Subcommittee, presiding.


Dr. Karmis, Dir., Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research
Dr. Karmis, who is also the subcommittee's liaison with the National Academy of Sciences, gave a presentation on the proposed scope of work for the study on uranium mining. The study will be divided into two parts:

  • The scientific and technical portion to include environmental, human health, safety, and regulatory issues that might apply across the Commonwealth; and
  • The socioeconomic portion to include a site and region-specific study of social, economic, and environmental impacts and sustainability factors such as quality of life, infrastructure, local economic opportunities, and real estate values.

While Dr. Karmis prepared a draft scope for each study, only the scientific and technical portion was discussed at the meeting. Dr. Karmis recommended that the study be submitted to the National Research Council (NRC). A typical study may take about 18 months and its cost will reflect the scope, depth, and expected timing of the final report.

The scope of work consisted of a three-page outline with nine topics, each of which included several issues that might be addressed by the study. The document adhered to a style similar to other scopes of work performed by the National Academy of Sciences. The scope previewed to the subcommittee was developed from review of relevant publications, relevant knowledge and experience, public comment before the subcommittee, and written comment sent to the subcommittee.

After discussing the framework of recommendations from the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research, Dr. Karmis introduced the scope document in more detail. The outline included the following nine major issues:

  • Uranium Supply/Demand Trends and Projections
  • Worldwide Uranium Deposits and Operations
  • Uranium Deposits in Virginia
  • Uranium Mining, Milling, and Processing Technologies
  • Occupational and Public Health and Safety
  • Security Standards and Procedures
  • Environmental Considerations
  • Closure and Postmining Land Use and Monitoring
  • Regulatory Considerations and Public Outreach in Virginia

Subcommittee members had comments on different issues pertaining to the study and scope, including whether market factors should be included in the study, and that the price of uranium must be able to support any recommendations of the subcommittee. Delegate Ware added that the enabling motion adopted by the Coal and Energy Commission requested that the study be wide-ranging.

Various subcommittee members also commented on their desire to have the study focus primarily on public health, safety, and the environment, and that the supply and demand issues not be placed at the outset of the study so that the hierarchy would be clear: price issues are important, but they need not lead. Dr. Karmis noted the difference between review issues (items 1 through 4) and assessment issues (items 5 through 9) and explained that he saw the first four issues as background issues. A member asked that future drafts of the study scope clearly indicate that items 5 through 9 are the key substance of the study, and not those issues that might be perceived as market research for the private sector.

One of the subcommittee members expressed his general agreement with the subcommittee, but reasserted that the study as designed is a two-part study with a scientific portion and a socioeconomic portion. He said if the study of the market value of uranium must be addressed, it should be within the scope of the socioeconomic portion. Dr. Karmis responded and stated that it is important to incorporate worldwide supply and demand trends, which would be distinct from the viability of any specific deposit and not appropriate within the site-specific portion of the study. The member followed up that the economic analysis may not be appropriate in the first portion and that the predicted price or uranium, if taken into consideration prematurely, might conflate the recommendations that followed.

The subcommittee was reminded that the study would be performed by respectable scientists who should not be driven by economic concerns and that the objectivity of scientists should be something that the subcommittee could cautiously rely upon.

It was recommended that the subcommittee adopt the draft scope of study, entitled "Uranium Mining in Virginia," as a tentative working document. A member inquired about the timeline of the process and the role of the subcommittee. Dr. Karmis expressed his hope that with the encouragement of the subcommittee, he would be permitted to begin discussions with NRC prior to the formulation of a final scope of study. He further expected to come before the subcommittee before such scope of study is finalized. It was emphasized that the meeting was just the beginning of a long process and, if this outline were accepted, the subcommittee would reconvene to consider work plans, funding, and other issues.

The motion to adopt the draft scope of study as a tentative working document passed unanimously.

Public Comment

The subcommittee then heard testimony from the public on a diverse array of issues relating to the uranium mining study.

May 21, 2009

Delegate Ware, chair of the subcommittee, began the meeting by indicating that Delegate Kilgore, Chairman of the Commission on Coal and Energy, would listen in via telephone.


Dr. Karmis, Director, Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research
Dr. Karmis began with a brief introduction of the scope of study. The final draft of the scope of study was developed in conjunction with the National Research Council (NRC), which functions under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Karmis emphasized that the role of the NRC is not to make actual policy recommendations, but to collect and analyze information with the aim of improving the quality of the policymaking process. Dr. Karmis concluded by noting that the study will provide advice, but not recommendations; reserves should be distinguished from resources, of which reserves are a fully explored and known component; and the NRC clarified with Dr. Karmis that the use of the term "reclamation" is meant to include postmining land use and monitoring.

A subcommittee member asked whether issue 11, which "[b]riefly characterize a public education and outreach program . . . for a uranium mining operation," assumed that the previous issues on public health, safety, and the environment would be answered reassuringly. He further noted that no money should be spent designing a public education and outreach program unless uranium mining has been found to be safe. The member also asked whether the study would examine "real-life situations." Dr. Karmis responded that existing issue 2, which states "[i]dentify and briefly describe the main types of uranium deposits worldwide including, for example, geologic characteristics, mining operations, and best practices[,]" will review real-life situations. The member suggested to the subcommittee that the scope be amended to clarify this and emphasize the importance of studying tailings practices.

Dr. Karmis was asked that the report include information on buried tailings and radioactive leachate, which would take thousands of years to decay, and more information on the financial assurances provided by any mining entity and how such assurances might be given for such a period of time in the future. Questions were also raised about whether foreign ownership of a mining entity would affect the financial assurance, whether the government would take title to the land after mining has been completed, and for how long in the future would the mining entity remain responsible.

Dr. Karmis responded to a question requesting clarification on how the study would review best practices by noting that the study would review best practices and then again as a preliminary step before determining if any such practices would be applicable in the situation. A member requested that the study also provide guidelines that could be used to determine applicability of best practices in the Commonwealth and asked that the subcommittee move the issue of public health and safety into a predominant position.

Public Comment

Members of the public spoke and voiced their concerns on a diverse array of issues relating to the uranium mining study.

Subcommittee Discussion

The subcommittee members continued to discuss the scope of study. Several amendments to the scope of study were made. For specific information regarding the discussion and amendments, please see the subcommittee website.

Next Meeting

The next meeting date will be posted on the Commission’s website and the General Assembly website as soon as information is available.

The Hon. R. Lee Ware, Jr.

For information, contact:
Ellen Porter, DLS Staff

Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2009