Pittsylvania County chamber opposes uranium mining

Jan. 14, 2013 @ 06:25 PM

Business leaders with the chamber of commerce where uranium mining is sought in Virginia have spoken out against possible proposed legislation.

The president of the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce, Laurie Moran, wrote for the Richmond, Va., Times-Dispatch newspaper the chamber has surveyed its 700 members and “believes there are still too many questions and uncertainties that could have negative irreversible consequences on our region and on our Commonwealth.”

Moran’s piece in the Times-Dispatch was posted online Sunday.

In her writing, Moran said the chamber board began in 2007 with a neutral view on uranium mining and supported independent studies to learn more about relevant factors. The chamber board, as part of its deliberate measures, eventually asked members to submit in writing remarks on whether the chamber should take a position. They were also asked, if a position was sought, what would it be and to comment on how uranium mining could impact their businesses.

Responses were kept confidential.

In stating a position, the chamber said safety in mining and milling uranium was a factor. Additionally, Moran wrote, the chamber has concerns “surrounding the potential impact of uranium mining and milling on existing businesses and the region’s ability to attract, retain and grow jobs.”

Proponents, including Virginia legislators, have argued opening the Coles Hill site in Pittsylvania County would be an economic boost, particularly in jobs with up to 1,000 directly and indirectly.

Another writing posted online Sunday by the Times-Dispatch was from Richmond Democrat Jennifer McClellan, who represents District 71 in the Virginia House of Delegates.

McClellan’s piece, “Virginia can live without uranium mines,” invited citizen input, calling it important to the legislative process. She wrote that she was working with Del. Chris Peace and Sens. Donald McEachin and Ryan McDougal to facilitate that input.

Her email address of DelJMcClellan@house.virginia.gov was included.

Virginia Uranium Inc. is hoping to mine the Coles Hill site, which was discovered in the 1970s before uranium prices dropped. A ban on mining was put in place in 1982. Prices have dramatically risen and the site is estimated at $7 billion with a 119-million pound deposit.

Among the concerns is uranium waste. Estimates say the site would have at least 28 million tons, which would remain radioactive for thousands of years. It would need to be contained indefinitely onsite.

Virginia, unlike western states in the U.S., is susceptible to more catastrophic weather conditions that threaten containment, including floods affecting groundwater.

The local groundwater sources and downstream drinking water sources, including Kerr Lake in Vance County, provide drinking water for more than 1.9 million people, including in the Virginia Beach area. McClellan wrote “regulatory framework to govern the process could cost up to $5 million annually.”

Last week, prior to the Virginia General Assembly returning on Wednesday for a 43-day short session, the Virginia Commission on Coal and Energy gave endorsement to Sen. John Watkins of Powhatan, Va., sending forth legislation that would establish a framework for uranium mining.

Watkins’ bill wouldn’t be a direct lift of the ban, but McClellan wrote the commission’s recommendation essentially was the lifting. The General Assembly will still have to vote on lifting the ban, federal hurdles must be cleared, and a final big hurdle would rest with Virginia Uranium obtaining a special use permit from Pittsylvania County.

Mining the ore isn’t expected before 2017.

The Associated Press reported Watkins’ legislation is expected to be completed this week and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Uranium Working Group is close to releasing a final study on the socioeconomic impact of allowing uranium mining.

That study may also be released before Friday.

McDonnell has not taken a position on the issue. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who has the tie-breaking vote in Virginia’s senate, said in December he is opposed to lifting the ban.

Contact the writer at awooten@hendersondispatch.com.