Monday, September 9, 2013

Coalition takes its case to the lake

South Boston News

Coalition takes its case to the lake
A map of Virginia showing areas in orange that represent localities that have taken an active stand against lifting the ban on uranium mining. (Susan Kyte photo) / September 09, 2013
Members of the Virginia Coalition brought their “Keep the Ban” message on uranium mining to a packed house at the Clarksville Community Center on Friday, sharing scientific proof of the devastation that could occur in this area if a proposed uranium, mine at Coles Hill spills into the Roanoke River basin.

John Cannon, president of the Virginia Coalition and chairman of the Halifax County IDA, opened the fundraiser with a warning that the fight to stop uranium mining at Coles Hill is not over.

Mining opponents won out in the General Assembly this year, but 2014 will bring new opportunities for Virginia Uranium Inc. to advance its goal of lifting Virginia’s moratorium on uranium mining, warned Cannon.

A new governor, whom Virginians will elect in November, could revive the debate, and Cannon assured the audience that VUI has vowed to fight on.

“Walter Coles already invested $45 million in this [mine and] mill,” Cannon said, and “last year, VUI, with its 20 lobbyists, spent nearly $600,000 on lobbying efforts trying to lift the ban on mining. VUI ranked number one in dollars spent on lobbying” the Virginia General Assembly during the 2013 session, he said.

Speakers at the event tailored their remarks to highlight the risks to Buggs Island Lake and Lake Gaston if the Coles Hill project goes forward.

“If the existing moratorium on uranium mining is lifted, the Clarksville lake area would suffer a substantial decrease in recreation and property values,” said Cannon, adding that these losses would pale in comparison to the health and environmental impacts of a major mining accident.

Event speakers, including Tom Leahy, Virginia Beach Director of Public Utilities, listed some of the risks associated with uranium mining:

The waste tailings remain radioactive for thousands of years and must be contained on-site indefinitely.

The first proposed site alone would generate at least 28 million tons of uranium radioactive waste — enough to fill 145 Super Wal-Marts.

The water supply for over 1.9 million people in Virginia and North Carolina is at risk of contamination.

Exposure to uranium has been linked to cancer and respiratory diseases, and can exert toxic effects on bodily functions.

Virginia Beach commissioned a uranium mining impact study that details the risks — although the document is hotly disputed by VUI, which has called the findings exaggerated. The report can be accessed by going to

Leahy said uranium mining equals risk, and he offered several examples.

“Human error can overcome all the best design and regulation, and equipment failure can release toxic chemicals.

Virginia has absolutely no experience with modern uranium mining.

Radioactive containment cells have failed in heavy rain alone, leading to water contamination and loss of life. Virginia is subject to extreme natural events.

And  Uranium mining may have limited economic short-term benefits, but it could drive away corporate investments and its waste sister-products will be contained and monitored indefinitely at the expense of local taxpayers.”

Included in the study were a series of video simulations demonstrating the speed at which radium contamination would move through Buggs Island Lake should a uranium tailings disposal cell fail near Coles Hill.

Narrating a showing of the video to the Clarksville audience, Leahy explained that “while the water in the lake would clear fairly quickly” — only 10-20 percent of the radioactivity would remain water-borne — “the real problem is with the silt and sediment at the bottom and along the banks of the lake.” Mixed with the tailings – finely ground particles containing heavy metals and radioactive materials – the silt and sediment become radioactive. This radioactive mix will lose only “10 percent of its radioactivity in the first 10,000 years after tailings are released into the lake.”

Since Buggs Island Lake provides 93 percent of all of Lake Gaston’s water, if the upstream lake is contaminated, in all likelihood, so is Lake Gaston.

Senator Frank Ruff (R-Clarksville) and Del. Tommy Wright (R-Lunenburg), both vocal opponents of mining, attended the meeting to discuss their efforts to preserve the moratorium in the General Assembly. Both men have counseled Governor Bob McDonnell not to go ahead with the drafting of regulations to oversee uranium mining in Virginia, a step advocated by VUI and its legislative allies.

“We can’t rely on our regulatory agencies to enforce the rules put in place to protect the citizens, the water, or the environment,” said Cannon.

Allowing that he is not an engineer, Ruff said his background in politics allows him to speak to the economic consequences that flow from the perception that uranium mining could take root in the area.

“Already the doctors at a medical association in Danville have said they will leave the area if uranium mining is allowed, making it harder for us to find quality medical care. And for those of you living on the lake, yes, the value of your property may have gone up since it was purchased, but you will never know how much it could have increased had there not been the threat of uranium mining,” said Ruff.

 Throughout their presentations Cannon, Ruff, Leahy, and later Andrew Lester, chair of the Roanoke River Basin Association, encouraged the audience to educate themselves by studying the reports and information posted on the Coalition’s website,

So far, the strategies and efforts undertaken by the Virginia Coalition have been very successful, Cannon said. “We have been able to fight back legislation in both the 2012 and 2013 General Assembly sessions. Since our involvement the lobbyists against lifting the ban have increased to 16, working with us representing many different entities.”

“There are now 107 resolution from political jurisdictions and businesses beyond Southside [Virginia] against lifting the ban,” said Cannon.

Before opening the floor to questions, Lester thanked the evening’s hosts — Charlie Simmons, Ken Morgan, David Dunn, and Beth McCubbins — for their work putting on the event and for serving as members of the Virginia Coalition.

Other informative links to uranium mining/milling in Virginia:
As a starting point I would suggest that you listen to Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s speech regarding his reasons why he opposes lifting the ban on uranium mining: