Background

 

In the late 1970s, geologists discovered uranium in Virginia, including a sizeable deposit at the “Coles Hill” farm in Pittsylvania County.  A Canadian company made plans to mine the deposit, and secured leases on many other potential deposits throughout the Piedmont.

However, the state had no regulations to cover such an activity, and in 1982, the Virginia legislature enacted a ban on mining while a state commission studied the potential impacts of uranium production.  When global uranium prices began to fall, the mining proposal was dropped.

No regulations were ever developed.  And the ban remains in effect.

What’s happening now

In 2007, Virginia Uranium, Inc. (VUI) announced intentions to develop the deposit.  Extracting uranium ore requires intensive use of water and chemicals, and leaves behind massive amounts radioactive and contaminated mill tailings.

The Coles Hill operation would demand 1,000 gallons per minute during start-up and 270 gpm thereafter, and generate about 29 million tons total of mill tailings waste, which would endanger human, animal and plant life in the region for centuries.

Most uranium production in the U.S. occurs in arid, sparsely populated regions. With Virginia’s wet climate, severe weather and population density, VUI’s proposal would be a radical, high-stakes experiment. In the last 40 years, nine hurricanes and countless other major storms have deluged Virginia.  In 1969, Hurricane Camille dumped 31 inches of rain on central Virginia. This April, at least 30 tornadoes were recorded in Virginia, including one in Halifax County about 20 miles from the Coles Hill site. As the climate warms, severe weather events could become more frequent.

Health and economic risks are high

The potential health impacts of exposure to uranium and mining chemicals are well-documented in global studies of people working in and living near mines, and include lung cancer, bone cancer, leukemia, birth defects, weakened immune systems, hormone disruption, and damage to DNA, the kidney and liver.

Establishment of a uranium industry in Southside Virginia would strangle the region’s efforts to diversify its economy and threaten the vitality of existing businesses—including agriculture, tourism-based enterprises, recreational fisheries, and internationally known private schools.

Industry pressure is mounting

Two state-sponsored studies have been completed: the National Academy of Sciences is reviewing whether uranium mining can be done safely in Virginia, and a state-hired consultant assessed the socioeconomic impacts of VUI’s proposal.

December 19, 2011 – Study of the Health, Safety, and Environmental Impact of Uranium Mining, by the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council, commissioned by the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission

November 29, 2011 - Study of the Socioeconomic Effects of Uranium Mining, by Chmura Economics and Analytics, commissioned by the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission

Company spokesmen have stated publicly they intend to again introduce legislation in the 2014 session to lift the ban.

Keep the ban on uranium mining

Virginia is unprepared to regulate a massive uranium industry. For context—Virginia spends less than 1% of general fund revenues on environmental programs. While permitting and enforcement costs continue to rise, environmental departments are compelled to slash budgets. A uranium industry would generate pollution in Virginia for untold generations, with inadequate oversight by regulatory authorities.

Keeping the ban on uranium mining, milling and waste disposal is imperative to maintain clean drinking water and healthy fisheries throughout the state, and to sustain and grow the our agricultural heritage, tourism industry and quality of life.

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