FINDINGS AND KEY CONCEPTS

The committee’s analysis of mining and processing activities that might apply if uranium mining and processing were to take place in Virginia has produced the following findings:

The choice of mining techniques and processing parameters for uranium recovery depends on multiple factors that are primarily associated with the geological and geotechnical characteristics of a uranium deposit—its mineralogy and rock type, as well as a range of other factors. Additional parameters that require consideration are the location and depth of the deposit, whether the location is in a positive or negative water balance situation, as well as a range of environmental and socioeconomic factors. Consequently, a final design would require extensive site-specific analysis, and accordingly it is not possible at this stage to predict what specific type of uranium mining or processing might apply to ore deposits in Virginia.

Uranium recovery from ores is primarily a hydrometallurgical process using chemical processes with industrial chemicals, with a lesser dependence on physical processes such as crushing and grinding.

Mine design—whether open-pit or underground—requires detailed engineering planning that would include pit and rock stability considerations, as well as ventilation design to account for the presence of radon and other respiratory hazards.

With the ore grades expected in Virginia, many of the technical aspects of mining for uranium would be essentially the same as those applying to other hard-rock mining operations. However, uranium mining and processing add another dimension of risk because of the potential for exposure to elevated concentrations of radionuclides. Hard-rock mining varies significantly from soft rock mining, such as coal or sand/gravel mining.

A complete life-cycle analysis is an essential component of planning for the exploitation of a uranium deposit—from exploration, through engineering and design, to startup, operations, reclamation, and finally to decommissioning leading to final closure and postclosure monitoring. Each of these steps requires wide-ranging stakeholder interaction and communications.



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