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16,000 sign petition to keep uranium ban
SoVaNow.com / November 28, 2012At the final meeting of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s interagency working group on uranium mining, a not-for-profit coalition will present a petition against mining signed by 16,000 Virginians. These individuals join 40 local government entities in Virginia and North Carolina in a growing chorus of public sentiment against mining.
Virginia’s ban on uranium mining has been on the books since the early 1980s, but Virginia Uranium Inc. is lobbying lawmakers to end the ban in hopes of mining the radioactive element at Coles Hill in Pittsylvania Co. Despite promises to hire up to 324 workers, the proposal has become a lightning rod. “I represent 10,000 citizens in the Staunton River District,” said Pittsylvania County Supervisor Marshall Ecker. “We are highly concerned about the potential for uranium mining and milling if the moratorium is lifted. We live near ‘ground zero’ and don’t want legislators to make this out to be a Pittsylvania County issue only.”
Public concern centers on the tons of radioactive waste that would result from a mine and the accompanying mill, where ore would be processed to yield yellowcake for export. All waste would be stored on site in perpetuity. “The more people learn about uranium mining and milling, the more supportive they become of Virginia’s longstanding ban,” said Katie Preston of Virginia Interfaith Power and Light. “As I talk to congregations and community leaders, they repeatedly tell me that gambling with our drinking water is both irresponsible and immoral.”
The risk uranium mine waste poses to private wells and public drinking water sources, including the Roanoke River and Lake Gaston, was acknowledged by a National Academy of Sciences study released last year. The NAS called “questionable,” the proposition that mine waste can be kept from contaminating ground and surface water in Virginia’s wet, storm-prone climate.
An engineering study commissioned by the City of Virginia Beach found that a catastrophic spill at the Coles Hill site would contaminate drinking water downstream as far as Hampton Roads. Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Suffolk have since voiced firm support for Virginia’s ban.
“The prospect of uranium mining and milling is something that concerns all Virginians, as evidenced by past leases upstream from numerous public water supplies,” said Dan Holmes of the Piedmont Environmental Council, “and the names on this petition come from all across Virginia.” In the 1980s, prior to imposition of the ban, the mining industry secured more than 1,000 leases in five counties and three watersheds: the Roanoke, the Rappahannock and Occoquan rivers. These leases have since expired.
Gov. Bob McDonnell established an interagency working group on uranium mining in January, following release of the NAS study. In doing so, the governor acknowledged that the NAS raised “important questions related to the health and safety of workers, the public and the environment.” The working group hosted six public presentations, but was criticized for spending $1 million to hire Colorado-based consultants with ties to the uranium mining industry.
The working group will present its findings to the governor and lawmakers in December. Members of the working group have indicated that their report will include “conceptual regulations” for mining, but the decision on whether or not to lift Virginia’s ban rests with the legislature. Lobbyists hired by mine investors have signaled their intent to press for legislation during the 2013 General Assembly.
Additional information about Virginia’s moratorium on uranium mining and milling and the organizations fighting to preserve it is available at http://www.KeepTheBan.org.
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