Monday, August 6, 2012

Just say NO to uranium mining in Virginia
There is a widely held view across the commonwealth that uranium mining in Virginia is a bad idea. When Paul Locke, the chair of the National Academy of Sciences report, "Uranium Mining in Virginia said, " Internationally accepted best practices, which include timely and meaningful public participation, are available to mitigate some of the risks involved. However, there are still many unknowns."

Unknowns? Mitigate some risks?

Virginia's climate and geology does indeed present significant and scary unknowns to uranium mining and milling that have not been confronted in other places. As the report noted, Virginia is subject to extreme natural events, including hurricanes, tornados, and heavy rainfall. And, as we've recently witnessed, the commonwealth is not immune to earthquakes.

The risks to public health and safety are great, yet powerful economic interests led by Virginia Uranium, Inc. are pulling out all the stops to influence legislators and agencies who will make the final decisions about keeping or rescinding the 1982 statewide moratorium on uranium mining. Those decisions will affect the future of every Virginian and possibly people beyond the state's borders. Unable to get ban-lifting legislation through the General Assembly, the industry enlisted Governor Bob McDonnell to create a Working Group that is tilted towards industry views, lacks transparency, and has encouraged little public participation.

To date, many concerns and questions remain unanswered. For instance:
  • What happens to left over toxic wastes?
  • What is the impact on drinking water supplies for millions of Virginians?
  • What is the impact on air quality for the region?
  • How will hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation be affected?
  • What is the impact on key parts of the Virginia economy such as agriculture and tourism?
  • What plans are in place for extreme natural events?
  • What is the impact on property values near mines and mills and along transportation routes?
  • What is the impact..... (fill in your own concern or check these out)?
The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is conducting public meetings on issues of water quality and water recreation to assess the impact of uranium mining and milling in the commonwealth. The meetings scheduled (more info about these and other meetings) are:
  • August 7 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at the Chatham Circuit Court Building in Chatham, VA;
  • August 15 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at The Barn, Lord Fairfax Community College in Warrenton, VA;
  • August 29 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at Meyera Oberndorff Library in Virginia Beach, VA.
If you can't make the meetings, you can submit comments directly to the Uranium Working Group online or by mail at 1100 Bank Street, 8th Floor, Richmond, VA 23219.

Another way to take action is to contact your legislators in the General Assembly. For those of us in the central Valley contacting Senator Emmett Hanger is vitally important. He has previously shown that he is willing to listen and he has been sensitive to environmental concerns on other issues. And, as a senior member of the Virginia Senate, he holds a position of power and influence. Not sure who your legislators are or want more ideas for your email to him/her - visit the Virginia Chapter Sierra Club.

Virginia faces many challenges in the commonwealth's diverse environment - cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, reducing the impact of burning dirty coal on air and water quality, mountaintop removal coal mining, and the uncertain dangers of hydrofracking in the huge watersheds of the George Washington National Forest. Each of these threats is very real and deserves the public's and policymakers' attentions. But, the unknowns and horrific perils of uranium mining and milling in Virginia are job #1 of all who care about a healthy future for the Old Dominion.

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