Uranium mining in Virginia poses many risks to the health of residents and the viability of the rural economy. Learn more about the uranium mining moratorium issue and how PEC plans to move forward after the issue failed to come up in this General Assembly session.
Uranium deposits can be found in many parts of the United States. In the late 1970s and early 1980s mining companies took an interest in Virginia and began taking core samples from a site at Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County and entered into mineral leases in other parts of the Commonwealth, including Madison, Culpeper, Fauquier, and Orange Counties. These efforts culminated in a push at the General Assembly to enact legislation to authorize uranium mining. That effort was opposed by many groups, including PEC, and failed and instead uranium mining and milling has been banned in Virginia since the 1980s.
Uranium has never been mined in the eastern United States. In Virginia severe risks posed by the state’s high rainfall, intense storms, and natural events such as hurricanes and earthquakes, make it particularly unsuitable for mining and milling. In the United States, uranium has only been mined in arid areas, where the low rainfall makes it more feasible to contain the radioactive and toxic mine wastes and mill tailings. Even so, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that tailings from uranium ore have contaminated groundwater in almost every case. Studies have linked exposure to uranium and uranium mine wastes to lung cancer, bone cancer, leukemia, soft tissue cancers, damage to internal organs (notably the kidneys), and reproductive risks (including fetus development).
In 2007 Virginia Uranium, Inc. rekindled the effort to lift the ban. Virginia Uranium is currently focused on the same large deposit in Southwest Virginia that was the focus of the 1980s push. A 2008 effort in the General Assembly failed to lift the ban and the issue was sent to the Coal and Energy Commission. Once again PEC and the Keep the Ban coalition took the lead in opposing uranium mining and milling. The Coal and Energy Commission commissioned two studies: The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on the current state of uranium mining and milling, and Chmura Analytics on the potential economic impact of uranium mining and milling on Pittsylvania County. Both studies were released in late 2011.
The Governor recently created an inter-agency working group to develop regulations and recommendations for legislation to enable Virginia to lift its longstanding moratorium on uranium mining and milling. This unfortunately, means that the process is moving forward without first getting approval from the General Assembly to lift the ban and the discussions are being taken behind closed doors. The Governor also placed tight time constraints on the working group, requiring that it report back on December 1, 2012.
PEC plans to continue a major effort over the next year or longer in anticipation that the pro-uranium mining interests will be pushing hard to lift the moratorium in the next legislative session. Virginia Uranium, Inc. continues to advise potential investors that they plan to push for legislation in the next year and the timing of the final report of the Governor’s inter-agency Working Group, is certainly consistent with the typical calendar for introducing new legislation for the 2013 General Assembly.