By Richard Bell

Radioactive? Uranium Mining Ban May Become Hot Issue In Virginia’s Election

March 15, 2013 12:32 am Category: Memo Pad, Politics 12 Comments A+ / A-
Radioactive? Uranium Mining Ban May Become Hot Issue In Virginia’s Election

Uranium mining is not the most pressing question in Virginia’s gubernatorial contest, which pits Tea Party favorite Ken Cuccinelli, the state attorney general, against former Democratic National Committee chair and Clinton pal Terry McAuliffe.

Or at least not yet.

But when Republican legislators recently sought to end a 31-year moratorium on digging up the nuclear fuel, the ensuing struggle in Virginia’s Assembly suggested that uranium could still become a highly radioactive election-year issue indeed – especially if McAuliffe and Cuccinelli come out on opposite sides of the question.

So far, neither McAuliffe nor Cuccinelli has yet taken a public position on whether to keep the moratorium in place, while Governor Bob McDonnell, a would-be Republican presidential candidate in 2016, has kept the problem at bay with the tried-and-true device of an ad hoc study commission.

The clearest sign of the power of the uranium mining issue came when Republican lieutenant governor Bill Bolling endorsed a continuation of the moratorium last December. At the time, Bolling was considering running for governor as an independent, having dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination earlier in the fall after Cuccinelli engineered a coup in the party’s selection process. The Republicans switched from an open primary to a conservative-dominated convention where the more moderate Bolling could not win. (He dropped his independent bid on March 12.)

The uranium in question is a huge deposit under agricultural land in Coles Hill, Pittsylvania County, on Virginia’s Southside, valued at $7 billion. Virginians have been fighting uranium mining since prospectors first identified deposits at dozens of locations four decades ago. In 1982, the legislature passed a ban on uranium mining until such time as “a program for permitting uranium mining is established by statute.”

The problem with uranium extraction, then and now, is that open-pit mining and milling, the method proposed for Coles Hill, leaves behind millions of tons of finely ground radioactive rock, called “tailings,” which must be kept isolated from air and water for thousands of years. Out west, many uranium-mining companies have walked away from mines or gone out of business, leaving the states and the federal government with the cost of cleaning up one of the larger environmental messes on planet.

If the proposed Coles Hill mine’s waste pond started leaking, the radioactive runoff would contaminate the water supply of more than 1.1 million people in Virginia and North Carolina, including the Hampden Roads coastal cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, and Newport News.

Preventing water contamination is much more difficult in Virginia than in western uranium-mining states because Virginia gets so much more rain. The state is also subject to hurricanes and other intense storms, producing local downpours that could overwhelm a tailings dam and cause a catastrophic release, like the Church Rock, New Mexico tailings dam failure in 1979.

The crash of the U.S. nuclear industry and low prices for uranium put a stop to mining efforts in Virginia during the 1980s and 1990s. But in 2007, Walter Coles, the eponymous owner of Coles Hill uranium deposit, teamed up with some Canadian investors to establish Virginia Uranium Inc., and launched a traditional top-down campaign to end the moratorium. The company has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists, and has donated $271,150 to state legislative candidates since 2007.

The state is already home to a wide range of nuclear-related businesses:  nuclear power plants (Dominion Resources), the construction nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines (Newport News Shipbuilding), operating nuclear Navy ships (Norfolk Naval Base) and major operations in Lynchburg by reactor builders Babcock & Wilcox and the French multinational Areva.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/dominick.vila.1 Dominick Vila

    The outcome of these deliberations depend on which constituency these politicians want to please. If they are focused on the Northern Virginia vote the 31-year ban will be extended. If they are after the rural Virginia vote it will be lifted and the dril baby drill mantra will be embraced hoping voters will be more interested in short term gain than preserving the environment and ensuring public safety.

    • Mark Forsyth

      I can’t really agree with your assessment on Virginia voters Dominick. I lived in south side Va. for a total of forty years.I resided mostly in the Hampton Roads area,[the spelling of which the author of this article got incorrect] and later in rural southside.I still know many folks living there especially in the area of Pittsylvania County and those counties adjascent.Most of them are involved in agriculture to some extent but are employed in as broad an assortment of jobs as what you would find elsewhere.I can asure you that they are not yokels who would vote to have their communities ruined with radioactive waste nor is rural Virginia the intellectual wasteland that it is often percieved to be.The people there know what they have and will do what they need to in order to protect it despite sometimes voting republican.Of course anyone can be hoodwinked on occasion.Let’s hope that this is not one of those times.

  • nobsartist

    Perhaps the Coles people and the corrupt attorney general should be forced to live next door to it if it is approved.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Daniel-Jones/827014412 Daniel Jones

    Well, Cooch, Let me explain: there IS no environmentally safe means of mining the uranium, and as only an “end-run” would let you get at it, it is an act of massive govern(or)mental intervention to do so.

    And that’s all she wrote.
    (I can say Cooch; I live in Virginia)

    • Lovefacts

      I also live in Virginia and shudder at the thought Cooch might win the governorship.

  • Siegfried Heydrich

    The solution to this seems really rather obvious. For environmentally sensitive projects like this, there should be no corporate veil. If you want to develop these assets, every person with a financial interest including all stockholders and management has unlimited liability exposure in both civil and criminal venues. If you’re willing to stake your personal fortune to own stock in such a venture, then you will make extremely sure that it will be carried out without any chiseling, cost cutting, shortcuts, or funny business. If an ‘accident’ occurs, the nation has the pocketbooks of every stockholder and manager in the chain of command relating to the incident from which to recover damages. No bankruptcy, no weaseling, you put it all on the line. The instant an environmental disaster occurs, the assets of all involved are immediately locked down, and then we start working out damages.

    That’s my attitude towards fracking – you want to frack? Fine. You screw up my water, and your exposure is limitless. So you have a choice – either you do such an exemplary job that there is negligible risk, or you simply don’t invest. But if you do and something goes wrong, well, what can I say . . . you gamble big, you can lose big.

    • Mark Forsyth

      That sounds real good to me Sieg,do you think you could convince Governor Cuomo here in New York State to implement that plan? He seems so much less opposed to fracking than we would like inspite of bombarding him with petitions and letters and seems content to accept a seriously flawed environmental report on fracking risks by our state DEC.We have far too much to lose here especially when one considers all the gains we have made over the years cleaning up the mess from the industrial giant days.

      • Siegfried Heydrich

        Of course not – I’m not a billionaire. Nor do I live in New York. Money talks, and all that. But you would think that all that talk about ‘moral responsibility’ would demand that those morally responsible accept the moral responsibility for their actions.

        • Mark Forsyth

          I really doubt that any billionaire would be posting a comment on these pages.I was attempting to share your ideas and illustrate how they might be applied around here.Would that there were a quick and effective way to force our elected officials to do the right thing.Difficult to do when so many have been bought off per the C.U. ruling.

          • Siegfried Heydrich

            Agreed – the problem is that with great wealth and power comes the ability to evade responsibility for your actions. This is the perfect definition of privilege (from latin, ‘privi’, private, ‘lege’, law). One of the most corrosive aspects to a Plutocracy is that plutocrats are not subject to the same laws as everyone else, regardless of what the law purports to say.

            The most quick and effective way of dealing with our elected officials is, of course, an informed and engaged electorate. Sadly people do not wish to be informed as much as their beliefs confirmed.

          • Mark Forsyth

            I couldn’t agree with you more in regard to the electorate.As someone who has been involved in substance abuse recovery for thirteen years I have found that the most important work a human being can do is as well that work which is most avidly avoided,which is thinking.It is indeed the most difficult work to consistantly grapple with problems and come to correct conclusions.This is especially true for those who are or who recently have been chemically compromised.One also finds this to be true of those who are undereducated. As I’m sure you know we often see examples on these pages of folks who employ convoluted logic.I still have not figured out what to say to people who are convinced to their core that there is an advantage to being powerless.Right or wrong I have concluded that it is a subconscious excuse for not taking action or doing the work of thinking.I think that we will have to act as fishermen and cast our information net as frequently as possible and take what we can get.As imperfect a process as it is we can take consolation that we did win the election and that we the people can lobby just as effectively as the plutocrats.There are more of us than there is of them.and we have had enough of the raw deal.Vigilance,consistancy,and constancy.

  • Liberalism is Nonsense

    Even if some people attack liberty in the name of illusions such as “man-made global warming” and “fairness”, liberty remains desirable.

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