Monday, May 20, 2013

Uranium Mining: Going…Going…Gone?

April 29, 2013 by Blue Ridge Leader       

By Katherine Vance
Editor & Multimedia Producer, The Piedmont Environmental Council

In 2007, Virginia Uranium, Inc. (VUI) made their intentions clear: they wanted to persuade lawmakers to lift the Commonwealth’s standing moratorium on uranium mining and milling. The company had their eyes set on a large deposit of uranium in Southwest Virginia, and they ignored the numerous warnings and unknowns. Determined to break ground in Pittsylvania County, VUI poured millions into a massive lobbying effort and PR campaign to make it happen. They pulled all of the stops— including flying legislators to France.

Nevermind that, in the U.S., uranium mining and milling has never been attempted east of the Mississippi—where heavy rainfall, storms, tornados, and hurricanes are annual events. Nevermind that the toxic waste would put the water, air, and soil of numerous communities in Virginia and North Carolina at risk of contamination. Nevermind that multiple studies have linked exposure to uranium and mining wastes to numerous health issues. Nevermind the risks—VUI saw the chance for transitory economic gain, and they weren’t going to let warnings of long-term effects get in their way.

VUI pushed hard, and it seemed their work paid off when four bills were introduced to this year’s General Assembly—bills aiming to make uranium mining in VA a reality.

David vs. Goliath

 But we’ve been fighting back all along. PEC and our ally organizations have been joined by numerous localities, businesses, and individual citizens in the struggle against VUI and their millions of dollars. By the time those bills hit the Assembly’s floor, 58 government entities—from over 45 localities in VA and NC—had taken action to uphold the moratorium on uranium mining and milling. Thirty-one of those localities are in VA, including the county that would have felt the most immediate impact: Pittsylvania County. And that’s just the government entities—there were almost 70 additional organizations from both states that had taken a stand in support of the ban.

We fought for our air, we fought for our water, and we fought for our soils. We fought for economic development that plays off the region’s strengths without jeopardizing existing businesses and economic engines. We fought for an enlightened vision of the Commonwealth’s future—and it worked. VA’s legislators couldn’t ignore the overwhelming support of the ban, and the four bills were killed before they came out of committee.

“In the end,” says Rob Marmet, PEC’s Senior Energy Policy Analyst, “it wasn’t uncertainty that killed the bills this year, but the certainty that this was not in the best interest of the citizens of the Commonwealth and those downstream.”
Looking forward

 We’ve won a big battle, but the war is not over. VA’s uranium deposits are going nowhere, and so it is safe to assume that there are more fights ahead. PEC and our allies will continue to keep a close eye on this issue in 2013, and we ask that you do the same. We wouldn’t be surprised to see this issue come up in the 2014 General Assembly session.

So, don’t kick up your heels—stay informed. Elections are coming up for the State House, Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor, and Governor—and we encourage citizens to find out the various candidates’ views on uranium mining and milling. Let them know that this is an important issue for the Virginians of today and tomorrow.

PEC was founded in 1972 to promote and protect the Virginia Piedmont’s rural economy, natural resources, history and beauty in its nine county region — which includes Loudoun County. Learn more about PEC and this issue by visiting