Environmental center claims victory on mining


When state lawmakers killed a bill that would have paved the way for uranium mining in Virginia’s Pittsylvania County, the Southern Environmental Law Center claimed a major victory.

The group, with one of its headquarters in Charlottesville, calls itself the biggest, most powerful environmental organization headquartered in the South. It focuses on six states Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.

This spring, the center focused its attention on the Virginia General Assembly, which was considering legislation to study and possibly reopen uranium mining in the state. The bill died when lawmakers adjourned in March.

The proposed bill left too many questions about how a study would be conducted, including where funding would come from and how state officials would proceed once a study was completed, the SELC said on its Web site.

Uranium is a heavy, dense metal used as a source of concentrated energy. Uraniums slow radioactive decay provides the main source of heat inside the Earth. The metal is most commonly used in nuclear reactors.

Uranium mining in Virginia was banned in 1982 after uranium was discovered under a crucial piece of land used to raise livestock.

Senate Bill 525 proposed the establishment of a 15-member panel to study the risks and benefits of uranium mining in Virginia. The measure was sponsored by Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach.

Due to the unique nature of uranium mining and the enduring environmental impacts, it is crucially important that a study be carefully developed and not fast-tracked, the SELC stated.

Virginia Uranium Inc., a mining company located in Pittsylvania County, was the largest supporter of SB 525. If the study proved uranium could be mined safely in Pittsylvania County, Virginia Uranium would have asked the General Assembly to lift the ban.

Pittsylvania County is home to what is considered to be the largest uranium deposit in the United States.

Virginia Uranium stated that uranium mining could be safely mined in Pittsylvania County.

We would like the Commonwealth of Virginia to sponsor an independent scientific study to address the impact of mining on the community, the group said. The safety of our neighbors, wildlife and environment is our first concern.

Virginia Uranium stated that if the scientific study proved uranium could be mined safely in the area, three methods of mining would be used: surface, underground and in-situ. (In-situ is a form of leaching that involves pumping a liquid into the ground to dissolve the uranium. The liquid is then pumped back to the surface.)

Excavation techniques include underground or open-pit mining, according to the World Nuclear Association, an international trade association for companies involved in the nuclear-fuel cycle and nuclear-power generation. When mining is completed, the uranium ore is crushed in to yellowcake a uranium oxide that contains more than 80 percent uranium, the association says.

Public safety was a concern for both opponents and supporters of the bill.

Virginia Uranium will use advanced groundwater monitoring, extraction, storage and disposal technology to protect local water supplies, the company stated.

In February, the Virginia Senate voted 36-4 in favor of SB 525. But in the House, the bill was referred to the Rules Committee, which tabled the measure on a voice vote on March 3.

As a result, the issue of uranium mining in Pittsylvania County will be put off for another year in the General Assembly.