If you live in the horse country of Fauquier County or in Culpeper, Orange or Madison Counties, which are fast becoming outer-bedroom areas for Greater Washington, you can be happy to know that you won’t have to worry about mining and milling the radioactive ore at all.
Led by Republican Sen. John Watkins of Powhatan, the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission voted 11 to 2 Monday to lift a 31-year-old moratorium on uranium mining and push ahead with setting up a state regulatory infrastructure to oversee it.
But the green light would apply only to Pittsylvania County, where Virginia Uranium has been pressing hard for five years to develop a 119-million pound deposit of the radioactive ore. Similar, but smaller deposits exist in Fauquier, Orange, Madison and Culpeper.
The full General Assembly will have the final say on lifting the ban after in convenes Wednesday. If the ban is lifted, any mining wouldn’t take place for several years.
While the commission’s move was expected, Watkins ploy to limit mining just to Pittsylvania was surprising — and cynical. Asked about it by reporters, he said he wanted mining in just Pittsylvania “because I want the bill to pass.”
Limiting mining to Pittsylvania helps proponents of the scheme. As it was in the 1980s, when the moratorium took effect, uranium is a hotly contested issue. The last thing Watkins and his colleagues need is more opposition from counties closer to Washington, where opposing residents have considerable resources to quash it.
There’s plenty of opposition to the Pittsylvania plan as well, including the Virginia Farm Bureau and the cities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach, which get some of their drinking water from nearby lakes.
In Pittsylvania, thousands of jobs have been lost in the textile, furniture and tobacco sectors. Studies show that mining would add perhaps 1,000 jobs. That hardly makes up for the manufacturing positions that have been lost, but adding jobs has its local supporters who believe the mining risk can be controlled.
Limiting uranium mining to a relatively poor area is somewhat like Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s controversial scheme to locate toll booths on Interstate 95 near the small town of Emporia. If he tried that, say, in Dumfries closer to Washington, the fallout would have been much heavier.