On the face of it, the recent General Assembly vote to create regulations to mine and mill uranium in Southside Virginia seems like a good idea. Unfortunately, the vote cast by the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission, a panel in the Virginia General Assembly, only sets the commonwealth one step closer to lifting the 30 year old moratorium on uranium mining.
The vote was 11-2 with abstensions. Before the vote, however, Sen. John Watkins (Powhatan) stated that his proposal to create uranium-mining regulations in Virginia would only pertain to Pittsylvania County.
Watkins’ “proposal” will ultimately make it more difficult for opponents of uranium mining to make the argument that lifting Virginia’s moratorium on uranium mining will lead to a statewide effort to mine uranium.
Watkins’ proposal will also make it easier for some legislators in the General Assembly to swallow the pill of lifting Virginia’s uranium mining moratorium.
The site that has been the center of this contention is Coles Hill, a piece of land that could contain up to 120 million pounds of uranium ore, the largest such deposit yet known in the country. The price tag that has been placed on this substantial sum of ore usually stands in the billions of dollars.
All of this may be well and good except for the fact that residents of Southside Virginia in particular don’t want uranium mining to take place.
The main reason that so many Virginians in this area are opposed to uranium mining is the due to the rain-evaporation ratio. That is, Virginia receives more rainfall on an annual basis than the environment can evaporate, making Virginia a moist state and a uniquely risky place to mine uranium.
In no other place in the country where uranium mining has taken and is taking place has there been such a high amount of rain, increasing the risks that uranium ore deposits will seep into the local water table and into local water drinking supplies. And this is only one of the many risks that Southside Virginians are concerned about.
As I’ve argued before, the issue shouldn’t be decided by politicians and bureaucrats seemingly half a world away. It should be decided by the people of Southside Virginia, where the mining is set to take place. And the people of Southside Virginia have largely spoken with one unequivocal voice: keep the moratorium on uranium mining in place.