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Comets clobber Martinsville 23-0

The pitchers are throwing strikes and the defense has been strong. And the offense has been fairly potent.





Countering rumors and clarifying views / July 21, 2011
Tom McLaughlin contacted me recently to check out a rumor that I am employed by Virginia Uranium Inc. I do not work for VUI. I have participated in the uranium study process and the political process at my own expense; I have not gained financially from any source.

The rumor, which originated in May on a social website, also insists that my position on uranium mining has changed. This is not true. I have never taken an absolute position, though my skepticism and caution are no secret. In my view, it’s time for civil discourse. Adopting a fixed position inhibits conversation, especially among people who disagree. I continue to work for improved understanding of the issues and an evidence-based policy decision.

I am not convinced that allowing uranium mining in Pittsylvania County or anywhere else in Virginia would, on balance, be beneficial. I am afraid of the potential effects of uranium mining in Virginia on our health, environment, and economy. I do not trust that owners or government will necessarily put the well-being of Virginia citizens and our neighbors above profit.

I am relatively well informed on uranium mining and milling issues. I am also willing to consider additional information and open to the possibility that I may not be aware of all relevant, available evidence.

Virginia’s prohibition on uranium mining protects us and provides us the opportunity to understand not only the risks and possible benefits involved if we were to allow uranium mining in Virginia, but also to understand who would bear those risks and how any benefits that might materialize would be distributed.

Lots of information is readily available – more information than the average citizen or legislator can sort through. Experts are currently studying the health, environmental, and economic implications of allowing uranium development in Virginia. In December, the National Academy of Sciences, the Research Triangle Institute, and Chmura Economics and Analytics will release reports. We will have the opportunity to see the evidence they consider essential for Virginia’s policy decision.

The purpose of all three studies is to assist the Commonwealth of Virginia in deciding whether uranium mining, milling, and long-term tailings management can be undertaken, as the NAS contract states, “in a manner that safeguards … (our) well-being.” “Well-being” means health, happiness, and economic prosperity.

The question before the researchers is not theoretical. The commonwealth must decide whether Virginia has access to the expertise, knowledge, and funding both to comprehend and to prepare for the worst realistic possibilities.

There is no assurance that uranium from Virginia can compete reliably on the global market. If our legislators allow future uranium mining, the volatility and unpredictability of the uranium market could threaten the stability we need to transition from dependence on manufacturing and tobacco toward a diverse, agriculture- and knowledge-based economy that can be relied upon to sustain our well-being. The proposed uranium project in Pittsylvania County has been controversial, divisive, and economically unsettling. Even if there is never a mine, the possibility alone threatens relationships and fundamental civility.

Earlier this year a spokesman for Virginia Uranium stated explicitly that the company had legislators lined up to introduce legislation in January 2012 to lift the moratorium on uranium mining. He did not acknowledge that citizens and legislators would need time to read and understand the December study reports and reconcile discrepancies. Anti-uranium activists responded by forming a keep-the-ban coalition, arguing that waiting until December to voice opposition would be politically naïve and irresponsible.

The Dan River Basin Association is now a member of the coalition. Once the group clarified its unequivocal opposition to uranium mining, I respectfully resigned from the DRBA Mining Task Force, which I had chaired. My approach to the issue, well-known to DRBA leadership, has not changed. I see my role as furthering public understanding; advocacy would impede my efforts and lessen my effectiveness.

The study reports are coming. Reasonable people are concerned about the well-being of Virginia citizens and our downstream neighbors and interested in everyone having the opportunity to thoroughly review and understand the study findings. For now, the goal should be ensuring that we make full use of the studies and critically assess whether they provide us the information we need to make a sound policy decision.

Let’s not rush into a fight. Let’s together insist on the time we need. At issue is our well-being, our common wealth.

Whitehead has a Master’s degree in government from U.Va., and served in the Virginia Division of Legislative Services as information officer for the Uranium Administrative Group in 1983. A native and resident of Pittsylvania County, she is an active voice in Virginia’s current uranium debate.

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