Thursday, September 19, 2013

Risks outweigh rewards of uranium mining

To the editor,

I have been trying to keep up with all the articles concerning Virginia Uranium Inc. and the pros and cons of mining uranium at Coles Hill.

But nowhere have I seen mention of the hazards of what might happen if a hurricane that drops 4-6 inches of rain in one-two days floods this area.

I would like to share this information with you, the folks in Pittsylvania County, as well as all of Virginia and North Carolina.

My brother, who lives in western North Carolina, sent me this article containing yet another reason that hasn’t been mentioned by VUI why mining at Coles Hill does not seem practical.

Because the uranium is low-grade yellow cake, there would be a lot of tailings for very little good ore.

Also, do the people of Pittsylvania County think all of the people who work for VUI will be paying taxes here? The big money-earners will probably be paying taxes elsewhere.

It would be much better to have good jobs that pay for years to come and a healthy environment, than for a few people to receive money for a few years and ruin our air and water while the taxes they pay won’t last but a few years.

Editor’s note: The following article on uranium mining was written by the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charlottesville.

Margaret H. Hudson

SELC celebrates uranium win in Virginia
On January 31, SELC and its partners celebrated a major victory: the Virginia General Assembly once again rejected an attempt to lift the state’s 31-year-old ban on uranium mining.
Over the past six years, Virginia Uranium Inc. has been pushing to repeal a prohibition on uranium mining adopted by the state legislature in 1982.
SELC is a leading defender of the ban, which has protected downstream communities from a proposal to mine a large uranium deposit about 25 miles above the North Carolina state line, in the watershed of the Roanoke River.
Also at risk are drinking water supplies for 1.1 million people in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, and other localities.
The deposit, while large, is of poor quality. Only a tiny fraction of the ore could be milled into “yellow cake” for enrichment as nuclear fuel.
Millions of tons of mining and milling waste would be stored on site and would remain radioactive for thousands of years.
In addition to water quality impacts, the mine threatens to undercut the economic recovery of Southside Virginia, which is featured on SELC’s 2013 Top 10 Endangered Places.
“This isn’t a case of the environment vs. the economy,” said SELC Charlottesville office director Cale Jaffe, who oversees our work in Virginia. “Southside is making a comeback with new business opportunities in recreation, tourism, education, and high technology, all attracted to a setting with a beautiful river and a great quality of life. Uranium mining would put all of that in jeopardy.”
Understanding the Risks
Conventional uranium mining has been carried out in arid and sparsely populated areas out West, but never in an East Coast state where there are hurricanes, heavy rains, and other frequent severe weather events.
A 2012 report from the National Academy of Sciences on uranium mining in Virginia raised questions as to whether current waste systems could prevent surface and groundwater contamination in this environment.
Showdown in the General Assembly
Armed with these findings and evidence from other state-sponsored studies, SELC joined forces with a broad coalition of environmental and outdoor recreation groups to form the Keep the Ban Coalition.
In 2012, we succeeded in preventing legislation from being introduced to lift the ban, but the industry came back with a well-funded and aggressive attempt during the 2013 session.
In response, SELC and its partners reached out to business leaders, doctors and health groups, local governments, and the farming community.
This led to the formation of a second powerful alliance, the CommonHealth Virginia Coalition, which is emphasizing the economic threat to Southside businesses and public health.
Facing a groundswell of bipartisan opposition, mining proponents in the General Assembly were forced to withdraw their repeal bill due to lack of support.
Continued Vigilance
The mining company is now lobbying the governor to circumvent the legislative process and develop mining regulations via executive order, setting the stage for another attempt to lift the ban in next year’s legislative session.
SELC, working with its broad array of allies, will continue to highlight the risks to Virginia’s environment and economy.