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Tuesday, April 2, 2013
The stars could hardly have shown brighter on the prospects of allowing uranium mining in Virginia than in 2007.
Virginia Uranium Inc., the company hoping to develop the nation's largest known uranium deposit on a cattle farm in southern Virginia, made a compelling case for lifting a decades-old state ban on uranium mining. The change would save consumers billions of dollars over the life of the mine, create jobs and revenue and, perhaps most importantly, provide a much-needed boost for the faltering economy in southern Virginia, especially in Pittsylvania County.
Federal bureaucrats, moreover, would have no say in the matter. The decision for or against uranium mining would be made by the commonwealth of Virginia, which has plenty of experience with mining regulation. And so policymakers responded accordingly.
In 2007, the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy granted VUI a permit to conduct exploratory drilling on Coles Hill, the tract of private land in Pittsylvania County that holds 119 million pounds of uranium. Then, in 2008, the Virginia General Assembly began to weigh the possibility of writing uranium regulations. With that goal, the plan began to work its way through the legislature, culminating in the creation of a Uranium Working Group consisting of staff from the departments of mines, minerals and energy; environmental quality; and health.
As public interest in uranium mining increased, the coalition pushing for legislative change - which includes the Virginia Manufacturers Association and many Virginians who live in and around Pittsylvania County - awaited action in the assembly on a measure that would have lifted the ban.
A vote on uranium mining, however, was not to be.
The Senate Agriculture Committee balked, effectively killing the measure for the 2013 session without a vote on its merits.
Notwithstanding claims to the contrary by opponents, uranium mining is environmentally safe and an economically productive enterprise. As with all types of mining, radon is released in uranium mining and milling, but when managed properly, the health effects, if any, are vanishingly small.
Uranium mining supplies the fuel used to produce nuclear energy, a safe and reliable source of electricity that does not pollute the air or emit greenhouse gases. Nuclear-generated power from reactors like North Anna and Surry is domestically produced and not dependent on energy supplies purchased from unstable or unfriendly countries.
Think about it: Reports indicate Coles Hill contains 119 million pounds of uranium, which is the energy equivalent of 4.76 billion barrels of crude oil. These figures help to explain its value to Virginia, job creation and economic growth.
The decision to halt further consideration of the uranium-mining measure during the 2013 General Assembly session might not be the greatest threat to southern Virginia's economic recovery. Potential economic dangers abound. But it fosters the spread of a disturbing idea: the view that Virginia and the nation can afford to forgo mining and industrial development despite the continued growth of our population and energy demand. If that notion becomes accepted thinking, the damage to our still-fragile economic recovery could be incalculable.
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