Economic recovery prospects in uranium mining


In 1997, a Danville, Va.-based fabrics company known as Dan River Inc. was being traded on the New York Stock Exchange and supplying such stores as Kmart, Wal-Mart and J.C. Penney. The company supplied thousands of jobs for people in Southside Virginia and North Carolina and was a major economic force throughout the area.

Flash forward to 2006: By then, the once-successful business had shut down all its operations in the United States after being bought by an Indian company. The new owners took the remainder of the jobs and absorbed the nearly $80 million debt that Dan River Inc. had collected.

A vital company that once supported an area with jobs and income now is gone.

Without Dan River, Danville, Pittsylvania County and the surrounding areas have suffered economically. However, some see an opportunity for the region to regain its economic strength with uranium mining.

Virginia Uranium Inc. pinpointed Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County as a hotspot for a potential mine. And while legislation to investigate the possibility was tabled in this years General Assembly session, the issue still is up for debate.

Its not going to go away. It will be back in 2009, said Delegate Danny Marshall, R-Danville.

While a mine inevitably would bring jobs to the area, Marshall said employment would be a secondary concern. During the legislative session that ended in March 13, lawmakers considered other issues as well.

The first thing they looked at was the health and safety part of it. Jobs are certainly important, but the health and safety of the citizens in the area has got to be the first issue, Marshall said.

He estimated that a study would take two years or more to complete. However, upon the potential completion of a successful study, Virginia Uranium Inc. is confident that it will supply not only jobs but high-paying positions that can help reshape the areas economy. The company projects that between 300 and 500 high-wage jobs could be created.

Those jobs would not be $20,000- or $30,000-per-year jobs. They would be well compensated $65,000-per-year jobs, said Patrick Wales, a project manager and staff geologist at Virginia Uranium.

Wales said the high salaries would produce income-tax and other tax revenues for the surrounding area. Moreover, Virginia Uranium Inc. and other companies that deal with commodities such as uranium and coal typically self-impose an excise tax of 4 percent that goes back to the community.

At 4 percent, a $330 million gross profit would turn into $13 million for local economy.

That money is going into Pittsylvania County for schools, transportation, conservation and things of that nature, Wales said.

Wales also said the uranium mining operations would create other jobs in the community and help replace those lost over the years.

A good estimate is about a 1-to-7 ratio, he said. For every one person hired for uranium, seven will be hired in other businesses.