Editorial: Downstream of uphill challenge

Jan. 10, 2013 @ 07:37 PM

Energy production, deep pockets and a poor economy are winning the day north of the state line.

Only one of many hurdles was cleared Monday when the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission passed, by 11-2 vote with three members not voting, recommendation to the legislature to consider creation of regulations for the mining of radioactive ore.

That’s a long way from a $7 billion-plus site in Cole Hills actually going into production about 50 miles from Henderson and Kerr Lake as the crow flies. That process isn’t likely before 2018 or even the turn of the decade.

But the momentum is unmistakable that Virginia’s three decades long ban on uranium is nearing an end.

We’ve expressed our opposition to uranium mining in this space previously, and reaffirm today. We understand the great strides made in understanding the process, and the improved safety measures.

The economy and our country’s dependence on foreign uranium for nuclear energy are not appealing. We know states have lifted bans, become energy producers and done well — notably Alaska, Texas and West Virginia. We also know those states have risks, and occasionally fears are realized with disastrous results to the environment.

Money is talking in the debate. Three members of the commission, according to a Virginia entity that tracks money in politics, have received more than $150,000 each in campaign contributions from Virginia Uranium since 2011. Proponents outnumber opponents in lobbyists hired, 19-9.

We’re below the site within the Roanoke River Basin. Kerr Lake provides drinking water for 118,000. Water from Gaston Lake goes to Virginia Beach, population nearly one-half million.

The National Academy of Sciences didn’t take a position, but has reported Virginia is susceptible to extreme natural events such as hurricanes, earthquakes and intense rainfall. The state got snow and hurricane rain, plus flood warnings and a federal disaster declaration, in October as Sandy passed. Virginia had an earthquake in 2011, less than 150 miles from the site and felt even further south into North Carolina.

Monday’s decision didn’t lift the ban. But a vote is coming among Virginia lawmakers. We encourage calls to them voicing concern.

And we hope our environmental showpiece and irreplaceable economic engine known as Kerr Lake retains protection it now enjoys through the ban.