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River group: Sandy’s devastation underscores need to keep ban / November 01, 2012
(Editor’s note: the following statement was issued by the Roanoke River Basin Association on Wednesday.)

The Roanoke River Basin Association (RRBA) expresses sympathy and concern for our fellow Americans who were in the path of Hurricane Sandy. In the past our region has felt the brunt of similar storms such as Fran and Camille resulting in widespread flooding, devastation and death. Brian Mosier, vice president of business development for Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, stated, “we dodged a bullet with this one.” We are thankful but continue to be vigilant.

When a Hurricane Sandy type storm crosses this region, rivers, lakes, homes and lives will be at major risk, especially from any uranium mining and milling operations. This is why Roanoke River Basin Association, along with over 125 communities and groups in Virginia and North Carolina, do not believe that lifting the ban on uranium mining and milling is worth the risk.

“As we watch the devastation in New York and New Jersey, we are reminded again about the wisdom of Virginia legislators, who in 1982 passed a bill to ban uranium mining in the Commonwealth to prevent the risk of radioactive contamination of waterways in Virginia and neighboring North Carolina. Rainfall events like Hurricane Sandy are the number one reason why uranium mill tailings waste containments fail. Hurricanes are not rare events, they threaten our region every year,” said Michael Pucci, the chair of the RRBA’s North Carolina Coalition, a group formed by North Carolina homeowners, business owners and professionals to raise public awareness of risks associated with proposed uranium mining in the Roanoke’s watershed.

The recently released National Academy of Sciences (NAS) technical report on uranium mining in Virginia, as well as the City of Virginia Beach-Baker study have validated this particular concern that severe weather events may overwhelm the uranium operations and result in long-term contamination of water supply for over 1.2 million people in Virginia and North Carolina. Specifically, the NAS report found that “significant potential environmental risks are associated with extreme natural events and failures in management practices. Extreme natural events (e.g., hurricanes, earthquakes, intense rainfall events, drought) have the potential to lead to the release of contaminants if facilities are not designed and constructed to withstand such an event, or fail to perform as designed.” The City of Virginia Beach study concluded that in the event of a partial breach of the uranium mill tailings waste storage containment, the City may be forced to shut off its water supply from Lake Gaston for up to 18 months.

Virginia’s climate presents obvious and significant challenges to successful operation of a uranium facility and radioactive waste storage in the Roanoke’s watershed. Nevertheless, a uranium working group established by Virginia’s governor has been actively engaged, at taxpayers’ expense, in creating a regulatory framework for this potentially dangerous activity. So far Virginia’s taxpayers have paid $1 million to an out-of-state consultants to find ways to persuade the public that uranium mining, processing and radioactive waste storage should be allowed in Virginia’s unpredictable climate.

Regardless of the Virginia executive branch’s wasteful efforts, the final decision on whether to keep Virginia’s 30- year uranium ban rests with the state legislators. The Roanoke River Basin Association encourages all Virginians and North Carolinians to write to Virginia state house delegates and senators and tell them to keep the Ban on Uranium mining in the Commonwealth.

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