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.