Uranium Mining for Virginia

Cartoon from the November 3, 2007 Roanoke Times by Chris OBrion (email, website), used with permission from Mr. OBrion, who moved back to Virginia from Olympia, WA in 2002. Previously, he had worked at the Fredericksburg, Virginia Freelance Star. OBrion has stuff for sale at Cafe Press.


Chatham is home to a sort of literary aristocracy including poet Ellen Voigt and Pulitzer Prize winner Claudia Emerson and WaPo book editor Jonathan Yardley. And Walter Coles is hardly Jed Clampitt of the the 60's sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies, whose proposed reinvention as reality series stirred public uproar in Appalachia about negative stereotyping .

Coles Hill in Charham, Virginia in Pittsylvania County, has been in Walter Coles's family since 1785, according to Tim Davis, the editor of the Chatham Star-Tribune, in his October 3 story, "Local company hopes to mine uranium." The house Coles resides in dates back to 1810 and the farm, which originally included 5,500 acres, was used to raise tobacco, wheat, and cattle. Coles attended Fork Union Military Academy and the The Citadel, in Charleston, S.C. After serving in Vietnam, he join the U.S. Agency for International Development, an arm of the State Department, in 1969. He has lived and worked in Asia, Jordan, Egypt, and Jamaica. After retiring from the foreign service in 1999, he spent five years as an international consultant on land reform and privatization, his last job being in Afghanistan. His wife, Alice Clement Coles, who still works with the State Department, is the sister of former delegate and Virginia transportation secretary Whitt Clement.

Otherwise, OBrion has drawn an interesting comparison between oil and uranium. And as he wrote in an email to me,

Two factors that almost led me to ditch the cartoon: I remembered the
outcry over the Beverley Hillbillies reality show, and I knew that
Coles wasn't in any way poor.

But it's just such a catchy tune.

Indeed , the "Ballad of Jed Clampitt" hit number one on the country charts in 1966. The composer Earl Scruggs and his bandmate Lester Flatt appeared as themselves in six episodes of the show. Their other foray into popular culture, "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" ended up in the movie Bonnie and Clyde. But , fiving lie to rural rube stereotypes, Earl Scruggs has recorded with the likes of Sting, Elton John and the Byrds.


Cole's ancestral home sits on one of the largest uranium deposits in the United States. There is also uranium in Orange County, which raised questions recently when a shale company prosed a quarry there. Rising uranium prices and the resurgence of the nuclear power industry after federal underwriting in the 2005 energy bill, have led Cole , along with friends, family and Canadian investors in Virginia Uranium, Inc. to lobby the Virginia Assembly to study lifting the moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia. The company's president is Norm Reynolds, former head of Marline Corp, which bought up uranium rights in both Orange and Pittsylvania Counties, the last time the state was considering the mining of the ore.

Cole, with the help of his brother-in-law, persuaded Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, to amend Virginia's 2006 energy bill to include a study of possible uranium mining in Pittsylvania. Cale Jaffe, a lobbyist for Charlottesville's Sourthern Environmental Law Center told the Richmond Times Dispatch, the final bill had no direct mention of uranium mining, but the study resurfaced in drafts of the 2007 Virginia Energy Plan. Sure enough, you can read them, starting on page 50 , in the plan Governor Tim Kaine released September 12.

The Law Center says on its site,

There is no precedent for large-scale uranium mining in eastern states such as Virginia, where the population density puts more people at risk and where a wetter climate increases the chance of radiation contaminating streams and groundwater. Virginia has no experience with regulating uranium mining.

The studies from the 1980s raised serious questions that were never answered. Many questions remain today, including where the uranium would be processed, how the mine waste or “tailings” would be disposed of, what safeguards would be in place to protect the environment and public health, how would the facility be secured from earthquakes and floods, and many more.