“KEEP THE BAN” Coalition Fends Off Vote to Allow Uranium Mining
In 2007, Virginia Uranium, Inc. began efforts to overturn a 30 year ban on uranium mining in the state, in order to mine uranium at a south central Virginia site along a tributary to the Roanoke River. The company has been waging a campaign about jobs and economic development, taking legislators to Canada and France to see mining operations and stepping campaign donations to key legislators.
Economic studies reveal a pattern of decreased economic diversity and long term weakness for communities that depend on resource extraction (oil and gas operations, too!). In 2007, Virginia Uranium, Inc. began efforts to overturn a 30 year ban on uranium mining in the state, in order to mine uranium at a south central Virginia site along a tributary to the Roanoke River. The company has been waging a campaign about jobs and economic development, taking legislators to Canada and France to see mining operations and stepping campaign donations to key legislators.
In May, 2011, Keep the Ban organized 20 VA groups for the effort, supported resolutions in towns and counties, and brought hundreds of grassroots lobbyists to Richmond. In January, Gov. McDonnell conceded that the National Academy of Sciences report has raised important health, safety and environmental questions, so a vote will not be taken this year. However, he’s told agencies: start drafting mining regulations!
In the 1970s, geologists found a large deposit of uranium at the “Coles Hill” farm in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. The state had no regulations for such mining, however, and the legislature even passed a ban in 1982. Now that uranium prices are rising, Virginia Uranium, Inc. (VUI) wants to extract uranium ore at the site, which would use large volumes of water and leave huge heaps of radioactive and chemically contaminated “tailings.”
Most uranium mining takes place in arid conditions. However, with Virginia’s wet climate, severe storm events and population density, VUI’s proposed operations would create risks for folks even far downstream in the Roanoke River Basin. Workers and residents near mines would be subject to exposure to uranium
and mining chemicals, which has resulted in elevated lung cancer, bone cancer, leukemia, birth defects, weakened immune systems, hormone disruption, and kidney and liver damage.
Two state-sponsored studies are underway, with results due by December 2011. A study commissioned by the city of Virginia Beach found that if a heavy storm event washed mill tailings into a nearby tributary of the Roanoke River, substantial radioactive contamination could wash into two major reservoirs, Kerr Lake and Lake Gaston, that supply drinking water to both VA and NC towns. Many towns and counties in both states have passed resolutions calling on VA to keep its ban on uranium mining, as have river commissions in both states.
Company spokesmen have stated publicly they’ll introduce legislation in the 2012 session legislation to lift the ban. They have lobbied both state and federal legislators extensively to support their proposal. Just as in NC, as permitting and enforcement costs continue to rise, environmental departments are compelled to slash budgets. A uranium industry would generate pollution in Virginia and downstream for generations, with little oversight by regulators.
Keeping the ban on uranium mining, milling and waste disposal is critical to protect clean drinking water and healthy fisheries, and to sustain the regional agricultural heritage, tourism and quality of life. Thousands potentially impacted downstream in NC will need to ensure their town and water supplier are on record in opposition to the mining, in order to keep pressure on VA officials and be ready for action if the ban is dropped. Please visit Keep the Ban for more information and to join in supporting this effort!