RICHMOND — A coalition of legislators, business leaders and advocates from southside Virginia on Wednesday asked the legislature not to act this session on lifting Virginia's 30-year moratorium on mining uranium, and instead to study the issue further.
"As is usual, the devil's in the details, and it's details, or lack of details, that concerns me the most," Delegate Donald W. Merricks, Pittsylvania Republican, said at a news conference. "We can't take these things lightly. We've got to be sure."
Mr. Merrick's district includes the Coles Hill site that contains a 119-million-pound deposit worth up to $10 billion that Virginia Uranium Inc. wants to tap.
A report from the National Academy of Sciences released last month and paid for by Virginia Uranium concluded that the state has significant hurdles to climb if it is to safely mine uranium, but that it would be possible by adopting international best practices.
Other studies, including one commissioned by the Fairfax County Water Authority, have concluded that mining could be an economic boon to the region, but also would carry with it environmental risks.
"People are concerned," Ben Davenport, chairman of First Piedmont Corporation in Chatham, said. "Sure, we want more jobs … but at what cost?"
The news conference was hosted by the Virginia Coalition and The Alliance for Progress in Southern Virginia.
Mr. Davenport said that they want Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, to form a group to evaluate the economic impacts of the mine, as well as short and long-term liabilities that could result from lifting the ban.
Mr. McDonnell has not taken an official position on whether the ban should be lifted this session, but has repeatedly said that public safety would be his top concern in making a decision.
Chris Lumsden, CEO if the Halifax Regional Health System, which employs 1,200 and serves about 100,000 patients a year, encouraged folks to abide by the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. He added that lifting the ban could create a sort of stigma in the region that could dissuade physicians from relocating there.
Virginia Uranium, meanwhile, insists that it can properly mine the product and that safety, the environment and public health issues are top concerns. The company also says it has no interest in pursuing potential deposits elsewhere in the state.
"For the past four years Virginia Uranium has worked with one main objective in mind: the comprehensive development of robust regulations for uranium mining in Virginia that ensure the protection of public health and the environment, including air and water quality," project manager Patrick Wales said in a statement. "Our company agrees that there are many questions that need to be addressed before it receives a single permit or license to operate a uranium mine and mill in Virginia. [But] no business of any sort can be expected to develop specific plans for a proposed operation — and no community can be expected to fully evaluate the potential risks of those plans — without knowing the laws and regulations by which they will be protected and governed."
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