By Samantha Morgan
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Clarksville, says Virginia should keep its moratorium on uranium mining – despite a flurry of activity in recent days to lift the ban.
“We believe the ban on mining and milling in Virginia must be maintained, and any legislative effort to lift the ban must be defeated,” said Ruff, who represents a swath of Southside Virginia where a rich uranium deposit has been found.
Ruff, who has been a senator since 2000, joined five other legislators this week in submitting a letter to the General Assembly in support of the state’s existing moratorium against mining uranium.
A member of the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee, Ruff represents Senate District 15, which includes parts of Brunswick and Pittsylvania counties and surrounding areas.
Also signing the letter were Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Moneta, and Republican Delegates Tommy Wright of Victoria, Danny Marshall of Danville, Don Merricks of Chatham and James Edmunds of Halifax.
They cited recent studies about the proposed mining of a uranium deposit at Coles Hill near Chatham in Pittsylvania County.
“The people we represent have formed an opinion based on what they have learned from these studies,” the letter said.
“The majority of the people in our region want the ban on uranium mining and milling in Virginia to remain. Period. They have concluded that the unknown potential rewards of uranium mining are far outweighed by the unknown risks that may confront their families in future years.”
For example, the Southside Virginia lawmakers said they feared that mining operations could pollute water supplies.
“Understand that over 99 percent of the radioactive rock will be left on site for future generations to worry about polluting drinking water from Pittsylvania to Virginia Beach,” the letter said.
The letter came as proposals to lift the state’s 31-year ban on uranium mining ban gained momentum this past week:
· On Monday, the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission, an advisory panel, voted 11-2 to recommend lifting the moratorium. (Merricks and Sen. Ralph Smith, R-Roanoke County, voted against the idea.)
· On Thursday, Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, and Delegate Jackson Miller, R-Manassas, said they will introduce legislation to establish regulatory and licensing requirements for Virginia Uranium Inc. That company hopes to mine the Coles Hill deposit. Senate Democratic Leader Richard Saslaw of Fairfax also backed lifting the mining ban.
· Dozens of Southside Virginia residents traveled to Richmond and joined Watkins, Miller and Saslaw at a news conference to urge that uranium mining be allowed.
Lifting the ban would create jobs and have a positive economic impact, according to Virginia Uranium Inc. The company said Coles Hill holds an estimated 119 million pounds of uranium that could be used to fuel Virginia’s nuclear power plants.
A state-commissioned study by Chmura Economics & Analytics, a consulting firm, stated, “A full-scale mining and milling operation at Coles Hill will support over 1,000 jobs for the 35-year life span of the mine, generate $5 billion in revenue for Virginia companies, and generate $112 million in state and local taxes.”
Virginia Uranium said more than 90 percent of the workers could come from Southside Virginia, an economically depressed region with high unemployment.
Company officials said they would protect the environment during mining operations and after the mine has been closed.
However, uranium mining opponents say they fear the environmental consequences.
Chris Miller, president of the Piedmont Environmental Council, cited a report that the National Academy of Sciences released about possible uranium mining in Virginia.
“Our initial review of the report confirms that uranium mining would be a dangerous experiment for Virginia. The report establishes that neither the mining industry nor federal or state regulators have any experience with uranium mining or milling in climatic and hydrogeological conditions like Virginia’s,” Miller said.
“The risks of containing huge amounts of waste for thousands of years – especially in a wet climate like Virginia’s – have never been addressed.”