MAC: Mines and Communities

Virginians band together to maintain uranium moratorium

Published by MAC on 2011-02-14
Source: SWVAToday.com, statements (2011-02-03)

The full Virginia Beach study (300pgs) is now online - http://www.vbgov.com/pu

Previous article - Uranium's dirty past, present - and future?

Uranium mining: Virginians band together to keep moratorium in place

By Wanda Combs

SWVAToday.com

3 February 2011

About 40 people attended an informational meeting Thursday night at the Floyd Country Store to learn more about an organized campaign to mine uranium in Virginia.

Up until now uranium mining in the U.S. has been limited to dry and lightly populated places out west, but, with the price of uranium on the rise, a Canadian backed company, a landowner and other investors are intent on bringing it to the east, and specifically to Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Before than can happen a uranium mining moratorium that dates back to 1982 must be lifted.

A group of organizers in support of the mining moratorium traveled from Pittsylvania County (about 75 miles east of Floyd) to facilitate the meeting. Deborah Lovelace, founder of the nonprofit League of Individuals for the Environment (LIFE), gave a power point presentation, outlining the uses and hazards of uranium and the logistics of mining operations.

Uranium is a radioactive metal found in the ground that's primarily used to make nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons. It's toxic to humans and the environment, explained Lovelace, whose mother's family is from Floyd and whose husband's family has been farming in Pittsylvania County for 10 generations.

"It takes 1,000 pounds of ore to produce one pound of uranium, which leaves 999 pounds of mill tailings. The mill tailings retain 85% of their toxic radioactivity for 300,000 years," Lovlelace said. Exposure to uranium adversely affects the kidney, brain, liver and heart. Neurological, genetic, and reproductive systems are also damaged by exposure. Long term storage of uranium's toxic waste is an ongoing issue.

Pittsylvania County resident Hunter Austin reported that uranium toxicity can enter a person's DNA and be passed down to future generations. "It has been studied. Everywhere they mine uranium they have had health problems within about a 50-mile radius," he said. A Floyd resident commented that cancer and birth defects are up by 81% in Fallujah, Iraq, because of U.S. weapons made with depleted uranium.

Those in attendance learned that a uranium mining operation involves an open pit or underground mining, a pulverizing mill, and a chemical plant. Mining photos were shown and a United States Geological Survey map was displayed, highlighting potential uranium mining sites throughout rural Virginia and North Carolina and up and down the Blue Ridge.

Do we need uranium for energy? According to Lovelace's research, the Department of Energy had begun selling excess uranium to friendly countries. "It's stockpiled. We buy it from Russia to keep it out of the hands of unfriendly countries." Of the 1,100 nuclear reactors in the world only 430 are used to generate electricity. Uranium provides about 4% of the world's non-renewable energy, Lovelace stated.

The contamination of natural resources associated with mining was discussed. One Floyd resident with West Virginia ties referred to the mining companies as terrorists, saying "What do you call poisoning our water if it's not terrorism? Mining has already ruined half the state of West Virginia and the mining companies have taken no responsibility."

Other frustrations raised by the group included the lack of home insurance coverage for radiation contamination or damage due to mine blasting, and the cost to taxpayers for radioactive clean up and storage.

Several studies are underway that need to be completed and reviewed before the decision about the mining moratorium will be ruled on by the General Assembly. One study is being funded by Virginia Beach due to the possibility that the city's water supply will be adversely impacted by mining. Another study is being funded by Virginia Uranium Inc., the company seeking to mine. Organizers reported that Virginia Uranium Inc. is well funded and politically connected, which increases the possibility that the moratorium will be lifted. An estimated 110 million pounds of uranium worth almost $10 billion dollars (as reported by the Washington Post) is at stake for the mining backers.

Several people expressed concern that if the moratorium is lifted it will open the door to uranium mining all over Virginia. "If it's lifted and they go after Pittsylvania County, it's going to ruin everything around," Austin said. Exploratory drilling in Pittsylvania County is already underway.

"There were 62,000 acres of Virginia land leased in 1980's and 42,000 of those were in Pittsylvania County," said Danville resident Karen Maute. Maute reported that uranium leases were sought in Floyd County back in the 70's and 80's. She suggested the county pass a resolution banning uranium mining and mentioned that zoning laws can also be a tool to keep mining out of the county.

Lovelace suggested that concerned citizens educate themselves and write, call or email their local, state and federal representatives. "I'm not anti anything. I'm pro keeping the moratorium in place," she concluded.

Note: The public is invited to a follow-up meeting to strategize ways of improving public awareness about uranium mining and keeping the Virginia mining moratorium in place. The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday,February 8th from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Floyd library.


Virginia Beach Releases Results of Uranium Mining Study

City of Virginia Beach Release

1 February 2011

The City of Virginia Beach today released findings of a study conducted in response to Virginia Uranium Inc.'s plan to develop a uranium mining operation in Pittsylvania County. This area in southwest Virginia is believed to contain a very large untapped deposit of uranium, but the site could be susceptible to heavy rains and flooding. This poses the threat of radiation flowing into downstream drinking water supplies, including Lake Gaston, which supplies drinking water to Virginia Beach and, indirectly, Chesapeake and Norfolk.

The study concluded that impacts to the drinking water supplies would be significant but not permanent after a worst-case storm. Depending on weather conditions, it could take two months to two years to completely flush radioactive contaminants out of Lake Gaston. Environmental and water quality impacts upstream would be greater and longer lasting.

Complete findings of the study will be available Friday on the Virginia Beach Department of Public Utilities website. The executive summary and other briefing documents are available now at www.vbgov.com/pu.

A state ban on uranium mining would need to be lifted by the General Assembly before mining operations could begin. Virginia Uranium Inc. is seeking to have the General Assembly overturn the ban.

For additional information on the study, please contact Tom Leahy with the Department of Public Utilities at (757) 385-8654.


VA Beach Uranium Mining Study Supports Ban

Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Release

2 February 2011

The Sierra Club Virginia Chapter commends the City of Virginia Beach for commissioning an independent study on the impacts of uranium mining on the city's drinking water supply.

"The Virginia Beach study modeled severe rain events occurring in the area for proposed uranium mining in Virginia", said Eileen Levandoski, conservation program manager with the Sierra Club. "The study clearly indicates great cause for concern for the citizens of not only Virginia Beach, but also Chesapeake and Norfolk who get their drinking water from a downstream source of the proposed mine site, Lake Gaston."

"The City of Virginia Beach is to be applauded for its leadership in protecting the health of its citizens by commissioning this study", added Glen Besa, director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter. "The study commissioned by the Commonwealth, conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, and paid for by the uranium mining industry is dangerously devoid of any site specific study."

The Virginia Beach study was presented yesterday (Feb. 1, 2011) by Tom Leahy, Director of Public Works, who was instrumental in pushing Council to underwrite the $400,000+ study. The study will be available online at vbgov.com/pu on Friday.

Mr. Leahy is the featured speaker at the Sierra Club Chesapeake Bay group meeting on Monday, Feb. 7th, 7pm in the Shafer Room at Virginia Wesleyan College. Councilman Jim Wood will offer introductory remarks. The meeting is open to the public.

The Sierra Club has also scheduled meetings on Friday, Feb. 4 with city officials in Chesapeake and Norfolk, with their own expert, Robert Tohe, who is involved in a coalition of native groups working with residents in New Mexico and Arizona who still suffer from the health effects of past uranium mining and milling operations.

"Radioactive waste from uranium mining and milling has been linked to increases in leukemia, kidney disease, and other severe health problems", said Besa. "Uranium was mined on Navajo Territory for over fifty years and the impacts are still felt. This is not what Virginia wants in its future. As the Virginia Beach study proves, rain events like Tropical Storm Gaston, which dumped 14 inches of rain on Richmond - could overwhelm uranium operations."

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