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Date published: 9/26/2012
RICHMOND--The Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, with representatives from some of Virginia's largest cities, wants the General Assembly to keep in place a 30-year ban on uranium mining in Virginia.
The resolution was approved last week by all but one voting member of the 16 cities and counties represented by the commission. It will be presented to state departments studying uranium mining and state legislators who could consider an end to the 1982 ban in the 2013 session.
Concern over public water supplies was a primary reason for the commission's stand, even though the resolution acknowledges the prospect of radioactive-laced waste contaminating a primary source of drinking water would be "small."
"If there is a problem, it is a big problem," the commission's deputy executive director, John Carlock, said Monday.
Virginia Uranium Inc. is seeking an end to the mining ban so it can tap a 119-million-pound deposit of the radioactive ore in Pittsylvania County, about 200 miles away from Hampton Roads. It says the mining can be conducted safely and provide jobs and an economic boost to a struggling region of the state.
Opponents, however, have cited concerns over the milling of uranium, which involves separating the ore from rock, and the vast amount of waste it would generate. To allay those fears, Virginia Uranium reaffirmed its commitment in August to using below-ground containment cells to store waste known as tailings from the milling.
"As the National Academy of Sciences study demonstrated and the resolution acknowledges, the way our company plans to store mill tailings--below ground--will effectively eliminate any risks to Hampton Roads residents and their drinking water," Patrick Wales, Virginia Uranium's project manager, wrote in an email. "Unfortunately, the Commission and many Hampton Roads localities continue to ignore our company's repeated commitments and base their concerns on an above-ground tailings plan that we are not pursuing."
The NAS study issued in December concluded Virginia faced "steep hurdles" before it could regulate uranium mining to protect the environment and public health.