Socioeconomic Study on Uranium Mining Released

A study examining the potential benefits of mining and milling Uranium, ordered by the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission, was released by Chmura Economics & Analytics on November 30th, 2011. Read the Chmura Report

According to the Executive Summary: Chmura Economics & Analytics (Chmura) was charged by the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission with producing a socioeconomic study to broadly consider the net benefits from a mining and milling operation in the Commonwealth. This report provides the facts and context to understand the magnitude of economic benefits and the socioeconomic costs stemming from a uranium mine and mill in Virginia. Chmura's analysis provides a framework for Virginia legislators to assess and balance the health and environmental risks against the economic rewards inherent to this industry.

PEC staff is currently reviewing the report and will post our conclusions soon. With a charge to find net benefits, it is unsurprising that the Chmura report indicates a net-positive benefit. However, a brief review raises several issues on methodology and assumptions and gives weight to a number of our long-standing concerns with lifting the ban on mining and milling in Virginia.

Excerpts from the report:

"…the risks and rewards are not balanced, and the adverse economic impact under the worst-case scenario is nearly twice as great as the corresponding positive impact in our best-case scenario." pg 7 (Executive Summary)

"The possibility for extensive environmental degradation due to unseen natural disasters can never be ruled out. Additionally, the historic track record of the uranium industry — largely forged in the unregulated period of the 1950s and 1960s — is poor with an established legacy of water, soil, and air contamination, which has elevated the health risks for the surrounding communities." pg 17

"Given the low grade quality of the uranium deposits at the Coles Hill site and the uniqueness of the physical environment of Pittsylvania County — particularly its high levels of precipitation and population density compared to the American southwest — it is unlikely the VUI will be a low cost producer of uranium. The Scoping Study indicates that should the average price VUI receives for its uranium fall below $45 per pound, then the net present value of the entire operation would approach zero." pg 66

"Uranium mining and milling operations unambiguously increase the exposure of the public and the environment to mildly radioactive substances, toxic chemicals, heavy metals and other carcinogenic material. Even under the best of circumstances, Chmura judges some adverse health effects and environmental contamination is likely." pg 83

"While this is the view of all U.S. government agencies, there are some scientists that would argue the current standards, even if complied with fully by the uranium industry, are insufficient to protect public health and the environment." pg 83

"… There is relatively little chance, if any, the uranium industry will improve the environment or be a force to increase the health profile for the region. Conversely, the history of uranium mining in America indicates the potential for extremely harmful effects to both public health and the environment… The industry is not condemned to repeat past mistakes, but it would be naïve to think that all health and environmental risks can be removed by employing the latest technologies or advanced design techniques." pg 83

"Several studies suggest that the health risks posed by uranium mining and milling will exacerbate the health risks that stem from lifestyle choices, such as smoking, already associated with the population of Pittsylvania County and the remaining labor shed, and further elevate the already high lung cancer rates in the region." pg 91

"The only hydrogeological study of the Coles Hill site that Chmura is aware of was limited in scope and recommended a more thorough and comprehensive study be conducted. In general, this study found the groundwater system "complex" and extensive. It noted that the "groundwater at Coles Hill is recharged not only locally but also at more distant locations. The complexity of how groundwater moves through fractured rock only adds to the level of caution that is warranted when considering the issues of water management and the health risks it poses to the broader community and environment." pg 98

"Because the environmental and health impact of the uranium mine and mill can take decades to fully understand, it is fair to stay [sic] that the ability of the current regulations to fully and comprehensively protect the environment and public health for the long-term remains an open question." pg 83

We will continue to review this extensive report and look forward to hearing from you if you find additional items of concern to you. Please contact PEC's Senior Energy Policy Analyst Rob Marmet at or at 540-347-2334 with any questions or concerns.