On January 31, 2013, SELC and our partners celebrated a major victory for Southside: the rejection of a bill in the state legislature that would have lifted Virginia’s 31-year ban on uranium mining and threatened drinking water for more than 1 million people. But the battle isn’t over.
Known mainly for its rural character, agricultural history, and quiet, conservative way of life, Southside Virginia has been thrust into the national spotlight because of an intense industry push to mine a uranium deposit near Danville.
SELC has been at the forefront of the Keep the Ban Coalition to ensure that Virginia’s longstanding ban on uranium mining stay in place. The proposed mining and milling operation—and the radioactive waste, or tailings, it would generate—is in the Roanoke River watershed that feeds Lake Gaston, the main drinking water supply for more than 1 million people in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, and other communities.
There is no precedent for underground or open-pit uranium mining in the Eastern United States, where the population density and susceptibility to hurricanes increase the chance of toxic and radioactive materials leaking into streams' groundwater, and drinking water supplies.
In December 2011, the National Academy of Sciences released a peer-reviewed study that validates many of SELC’s core concerns about uranium mining and the water quality risks associated with uranium tailings, which can be a potential source of radioactive contamination for thousands of years. Another study showed that the costs to Virginia in a worst-case scenario are almost double the economic benefits of the best-case scenario.
After a multi-year battle that included fierce opposition from a uniquely diverse coalition, SELC applauds the General Assembly’s wise decision to scrap a bill that would have lifted the ban. The action sends a clear message that the risks to residents, the environment, and the economy are far too great. Critical to the General Assembly's action were the various studies -- particularly the peer-reviewed National Academy of Sciences studey -- that shed considerable light on this issue.
Virginia Energy Resources, the Canadian-based company that claims 100% ownership of the uranium deposit, might still seek to use “back door” avenues, such as budget amendments, to pursue its agenda in Virginia. SELC will remain vigilant during the 2013 session and beyond to ensure that the ban stays in place.
Photo: © Katherine Vance
For more information about this endangered area, visit our casepage: Uranium Mining - A Risky Experiment