Still Not Time to Allow Uranium Mining in Virginia

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    A recent ‘research report’ released by the conservative misfits at the Heritage Foundation titled “Time to Allow Uranium Mining in Virginia” represents a fabulous attempt to shrug off the real issue at hand over lifting Virginia’s 30 year old moratorium on uranium mining: is it safe enough to allow and do the people of Southern Virginia, where the uranium ore lies buried, even want it? According to the report, “A closer analysis, however, reveals that uranium mining is conducted around the world safely and to great economic benefit.”

    But in order for Heritage to have concluded “uranium mining is conducted around the world safely,” their definition of “safely” must have been quite narrow. Uranium mining has been conducted around the world with mixed records of safety, both with regards to ‘active’ mines and legacy mines. For instance, “Contamination of local water supplies around uranium mines and processing plants has been documented in Brazil, Colorado, Texas, Australia, Namibia and many other sites.”

    As more intensive studies are conducted to determine the potential negative health effects of uranium mining, there is already a belief by some groups that have been mined around that uranium mining is directly or indirectly to blame for health problems in their communities.  For example, “There were 4,000 of us at one time…32 villages. Now we have two villages with 800 people [each]. We’ve faced starvation, epidemics, and illness brought from western contact. And now chemicals, chemicals everywhere.” While the Heritage Foundation may simply shrug these ‘beliefs’ off as unscientific and speculative, how scientific is it to assert that uranium mining has been conducted “safely” when studies on the health effects of uranium mining have been sparse or nonexistent, depending on the geographic location?

    If the ‘other’ side that the Heritage Foundation points to as biased and full of “special interests,” it’s just as clear that the Heritage Foundation has its own conservative axe to grind. It can be found in the following line: Buried 1,600 feet beneath a cattle farm in southern Virginia on a tract of private [emphasis mine] called Coles Hill are 119 million pounds of uranium ore…” Here is where the real motivation lay. The Heritage Foundation believes that the “tract of private land called Coles Hill” should be used in any way the owners of the land wish.

    In almost any other case I would agree, but the implications for the community surrounding Coles Hill are immense. As John Cannon of Halifax commented, “If one cell (in an eight-cell container of uranium tailings) breaks loose, the (Banister) river is dead for 80,000 years.” Thus, uranium mining at Coles Hill is not simply an issue of mining on private land, it’s an issue of what private landowners can do when public health is at risk. Can private landowners mine a substance that could devastate important communal water supplies, for instance?

    And in spite of all of the pronouncements regarding the commitment to safety from proponents of uranium mining in Virginia, these are all just words that won’t protect those who stand to lose from a uranium mining “accident.”  

    As Jesse Andrews, a Virginian resident who lives 15 miles from the Coles Hill uranium site said, “Here’s my real concern – that this mine will happen at all, because once the inevitable so-called accident happens, all the regulations you can write will become meaningless scraps of paper.”

    I hope legislators in this year’s General Assembly remember these words well. Accidents WILL happen, it’s just a matter of when and who gets affected.

    • Elaine in Roanoke

      The so-called “Frankenstorm” set to track across the eastern half of Virginia is just another reason for keeping the ban on uranium mining in the state. Imagine the danger that would ensue from having huge storage pits of radioactive uranium tailings if a storm hit and dumped up to a foot or more of rain on the area.