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When there is doubt, don't lift the ban

January 18, 2013 12:10 am


--My family and I have farmed in Orange County for 76 years. I owned the most radioactive site in northern Virginia according to the industry's syntilometer tests when the uranium interests came to lease my land in Orange County for mining and milling in 1979. Despite riches promised, a visit to Colorado and Utah mines and mills convinced us it was not worth the risk to our land and our neighbors downwind and downstream.

On Jan. 7, the Uranium Working Group, the governor-appointed subcommittee of the Coal and Energy Commission, recommended an outline for developing a set of regulations for mining and milling of uranium in Virginia. The cost to the taxpayers will be well over $1 million this year alone. Sen. John Watkins has proposed a bill to lift the 30-year moratorium on mining and milling uranium.

The credentials of the UWG are questionable as they ignored a number of serious threats to the health, welfare, and safety to residents of Virginia:

"New" technology for storing tailings "below grade" overlooks the fact that our groundwater is below grade. Where is the technology involving the storage and security during the years before returning them to the mine innards? The tailings will be of greater volume, being ground up, than they were when removed, and 99.5 percent of the ore is retained as tailings. Millions of tons of tailings (toothpaste) will be put back (into the tube).

Why is the advice of professional hydrologists ignored about the water contamination threats?

Our research shows that tailings pit liners can last for maximum of 200 years. These tailings are reported to remain radioactive for well over 100,000 years. Our future safety is not a concern?

Economists tell us of negative effects on land values, reduced tourist trade, and boom/bust cycles of mining giving communities the associated headaches.

Escrow funds set aside for decommissioning, damage repair from devastating environmental impacts, and perpetual care are rarely, if ever, adequate. Witness Superfund sites and decommissioning costs borne by the taxpayers for hundreds of millions in stabilizing numerous radioactive sites.

Climate events--hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, and our annual 40-plus inches of rain--make Virginia vulnerable in a dangerous experiment affecting the health, safety, and welfare of millions of our residents for the profit of a few.

Virginia Uranium talks of shafting and tunneling mines up to 2,000 feet below ground, which must be pumped out to operate. What recourse do local well-owners have, where wells are normally 200 to 400 feet in depth, when they go dry?

The professional National Academy of Science report of 2011 raises many questions as to the safety of these mining activities in our climate. Catastrophic disasters have happened and the long-term consequences are felt frequently throughout the West where these activities took place in a semi-arid climate and low population density. Two UWG members recognized these threats. A set of rules and regulations on paper will not stop radioactive waste contamination in severe weather and, literally, earth-shaking events.

The proponents of "Keep the Ban" have been accused of being emotional on the issue. I agree. When my water supply, the air I breathe, the land I raise food on, and my health is threatened, I get emotional.

Bennie Shelly of the Navajo nation (with more than 60 percent unemployment), said this in 2007: "[U]ranium mining has devastated both the people and the land. Workers, their families, and our communities suffer increased instances of cancer that trace back to uranium exposure. Abandoned mines represent ongoing health and environmental hazard. While the Navajo people have suffered the effects of uranium mining, perhaps the greatest tragedy is the prospect that many companies are attempting to come back to Navajo Country to mine uranium once again."

I am not anti-nuclear. This issue revolves around the processing of uranium in Virginia, and the front end of the nuclear cycle is inappropriate in our state.

Check this website for information: CommonHeal

Allowing the mining and milling of uranium in Virginia amounts to tyranny of the financial over the interests of Virginia residents. Our legislature needs to do what is safe for the the commonwealth, and not ignore threats perpetrated by a single industry, so far by a single company.

When reasonable people raise reasonable questions and many of these questions go unanswered satisfactorily, serious doubts are logically raised. When in doubt--don't. The ban on uranium mining and milling in Virginia should become permanent until the industry can unequivocally demonstrate it can be done without threat to our residents in perpetuity.

Bill Speiden is legislative director of the Orange County Farm Bureau, past chairman of the Orange County Planning Commission, a farmer, a landowner, and a resident of Orange County.

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