Safety, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. When it comes to the issue of uranium mining in Virginia, there are two main groups: those who believe that adequate safety measures can be put in place and those who don’t. I fall in the latter group.
By safety measures, I don’t simply mean physical protections against the various environmental and human health risks that milling and mining uranium pose to Virginians. I also mean legal protections afforded any individual who believes themselves injured by the processes of uranium mining or milling.
When asked if “a locality may subject a uranium mining operation to civil penalties or liability for loss of revenue by agricultural operations for cancellation, rescission, or modification of agricultural contracts due to uranium mining,” Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli responded, “no.”
And what, you might be asking, is Cuccinelli’s reasoning? The federal government prohibits these protections! That is, the Republican candidate for governor who has essentially campaigned on a theme of ‘too much government’ is conveniently using the federal government to oppose local government protections against a sector that Cuccinelli is clearly beholden to (i.e., energy). Something smells rotten in Denmark…
The concern over protections is not just pertinent to Southside Virginians. It is suspected that the uranium deposits found at Coles Hill could be the tip of the iceberg. According to a report by New Republic, “geologists suspect that the Coles Hill deposit is not isolated. Scientists argue about the origins of the ore, but it’s most likely a remnant of the same ancient tectonic processes that created the Triassic Basins--meaning that there could be similar deposits up and down the East Coast.” That is, uranium mining might be coming to a town near you in the near future.
What happens now in terms of staying the moratorium on uranium mining or establishing regulations that will open the door for lifting Virginia’s moratorium on uranium mining will have repercussions for additional discoveries of uranium ore in Virginia. Now is therefore the best time to ensure that we, as Virginians, make the right decision on how to move forward.
Unfortunately for advocates of uranium mining and milling, safety is not something that be assured anymore than someone can be assured that the airplane their riding on won’t malfunction. Since the moratorium was placed on uranium mining in Virginia in 1982, the ball has been in their court to prove that uranium mining can be done safely. But apart from generalized conclusions and half-baked case-study comparisons, advocates of uranium mining have been able to offer little in the way of effective arguments for lifting the moratorium.
The bottom line, however, is that the majority of Southside Virginians and their elected representatives have called for maintaining the moratorium until further notice. Why, then, are we even still talking about this issue?