A new coalition that wants to delay
— maybe indefinitely — mining uranium in Southside Virginia is taking a different tact: They aren’t talking about safety as much as the potential effect on jobs.
The Virginia Coalition and the Alliance for Progress in Southern Virginia urged the General Assembly Wednesday not to lift the state’s ban this year because it could harm their employees and the ability to attract employees and companies to the region.
They were joined by a half-dozen Southside lawmakers including Sens. Frank Ruff (R-Clarksville) and Bill Stanley (R-Moneta) and Dels Danny Marshall (R-Danville), Don Merricks (R-Martinsville), James Edmunds (R-Charlotte) and Tommy Wright (R-Amelia).
“We want long-term high paying jobs for all our citizens,’’ Marshall said at a news conference.
Ben Davenport, chairman of First Piedmont Corp. in Chatham, called on Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) to appoint a commission to review a study by the the National Academy of Sciences released in December.
The 22-month review said uranium could be mined, but Virginia Uranium would have to protect workers, the public and the environment in Virginia, which has no experience unearthing radioactive element.
“We are currently reviewing the report from NAS and will have more to say about this subject shortly,’’ McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell said. “The governor’s chief priority when it comes to this issue is ensuring public safety.”
A spokesman for Virginia Uranium cited what he said was the lengthy permitting process that the project would go through.
“The Southside business leaders who spoke today, many of whom are involved in heavily regulated industries including health care, banking and industrial waste management, know well how this process works,’’ said Patrick Wales, Virginia Uranium project manager. “The commonwealth and the federal government mandate standards that will ensure the protection of public health and the environment. As these business leaders know, those standards must be met in order for a company to operate.”
No bill has been introduced yet, but the deadline for legislation is not until Friday.
Two uranium deposits were found three decades ago in Coles Hill, near Chatham, a small town in Pittsylvania. They begin at the ground's surface, under land used for cattle, and run about 1,500 feet deep.
Virginia Uranium said tests indicate that about 119 million pounds of uranium — worth as much as $10 billion — are below the surface. It is the world's seventh-largest known deposit — or enough to supply all U.S. nuclear power plants for about two years or Virginia's demands for 75 years.
Groups that oppose mining have said Virginia's relatively rainy climate could contaminate natural resources, cause cancer or other illnesses and have long-term effects on plants and animals. The Coles Hill area supplies drinking water locally and to parts of Hampton Roads and North Carolina.
Company officials say safeguards have been put in place since mining at Coles Hill was first considered and that the federal government regulates mines and mills with regard to safety and homeland security.
Uranium would be mined underground. The result, a sandy substance called "yellow cake" uranium, would be packed into drums and shipped while the remaining crushed rock would be kept on site, underground or in a pit.
This story has been updated.