About half of Virginia's business leaders oppose lifting the moratorium on uranium mining, but "balanced, unbiased education" would increase confidence in the industry, according to a study.
The survey, commissioned by Gov. Bob McDonnell's interagency working group, was released Tuesday during a General Assembly session in which lawmakers will decide whether to end a 31-year-old state moratorium on uranium mining. The group released a report in November outlining a proposed regulatory scheme for uranium mining and milling.
Lawmakers in both chambers are drafting bills to establish licensing and regulatory requirements for a uranium mining and milling operation at Coles Hill near Chatham, where Virginia Uranium Inc. hopes to tap a 119 million-pound deposit worth an estimated $7 billion.
Supporters tout its potential economic benefits to the state and to Southside Virginia. Opponents say it could hurt regional economic development and pose environmental and health risks.
The research firm ORI of Herndon collected responses from 652 Virginia business representatives and seven regional and out-of-state site location consultants about allowing uranium mining in Pittsylvania County. The survey found no clear consensus among business leaders. About half - 50.3?percent - want the ban to remain, 39?percent favor lifting the moratorium, and 10.7?percent said they don't know.
Only about 60 percent were aware of the Pittsylvania deposit and the state's evaluation of uranium mining and milling. The survey also indicated that business leaders had little understanding of the technology and processes that would be used to extract uranium.
McDonnell will review the report before deciding on a recommendation.
— Local business leaders were primarily concerned about public water supplies and agriculture.
— Responses were mixed on mining's impact on local economic growth, with most concluding that it would have a negative effect on business revenue rather than positive.
Patrick Wales, project manager for Virginia Uranium, said the survey's conclusion on the "level of awareness" about uranium mining is understandable. Full-scale uranium mining has never occurred on the East Coast.
"That's to be expected with any new industry and that's why as we move forward it will be important to specifically address people's concerns and assure them of our commitment to safety and protecting the environment," he said in a statement.
Wales also noted that most business leaders did not view uranium mining as a "stigma."
Andrew Lester of the Roanoke River Basin Authority, which opposes uranium mining, said the report appears to downplay concerns raised by a National Academy of Sciences study by "suggesting that those who are concerned must not be educated enough on this issue."
The NAS study concluded Virginia would have to overcome "steep hurdles" to ensure that uranium mining and processing could be conducted safely. It did not offer a recommendation on the moratorium.