Federal court upholds Virginia’s ban on uranium mining

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals courthouse in Richmond, Virginia. (© Acroterion)

It’s 35 years and counting now that Virginia has vigorously defended a ban on uranium mining. In a legal win for the Commonwealth and communities in Southern Virginia, a federal court upheld a ruling to throw out a suit brought by Virginia Uranium, Inc. and its Canadian parent company aimed at forcing the state to start accepting uranium mining permits.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court decision that the suit had no merit, citing: “Federal law does not preempt state regulations of conventional uranium mining.”

SELC filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Dan River Basin Association and the Roanoke River Basin Association in support of the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

“The court wisely found no merit to VUI’s tortured reading of federal law, and this is a great bulwark against VUI’s repeated attempts to force uranium mining onto Virginians, despite clear and united opposition against bringing this risky endeavor into our state,” said SELC Staff Attorney Will Cleveland. “This is another win for Virginia communities that know vibrant and healthy rivers are critical for promoting tourism, fishing, boating, and a strong, Southside economy.”

There is no precedent for large-scale uranium mining in the East, where population density and a wet climate increase the chance of radiation contaminating streams and groundwater and exposure to humans. More than 60 local governments, businesses, and organizations have passed resolutions to support continuation of the ban. 

VUI’s lawsuit alleged that the federal Atomic Energy Act preempted state law on uranium mining even though the Atomic Energy Act does not regulate uranium mining.

The ruling marks another loss for VUI’s ongoing efforts to mine a uranium deposit north of Danville, despite a uranium mining ban in place since 1982. Conservation and local groups succeeded in blocking attempts by VUI to pass legislation in 2013 to lift the state freeze on uranium mining. The company responded by challenging the ban with state and federal lawsuits against the Commonwealth of Virginia. 

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