Uranium Mining in Virginia draws closer, despite opposition

Cartoon from the November 3, 2007 Roanoke Times by Chris OBrion (email, website, RT archive), used with permission from Mr. OBrion, who cartoons regularly for the paper, in addition to doing artwork for other clients from his home in Richmond, VA.


In November 2007, I wrote about Coles Hill in Chatham, Virginia in Pittsylvania County, which has been in Walter Coles's family since 1785. 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  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,  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.

If the politically connected Coles has his way, the uranium that lies there will be mined, to his great profit, despite earlier decisions to abandon such mining, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), due to serious questions raised in the 80s and never answered about
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.

The mining moved one step closer December 8, when the General Assembly's Virginia Coal and Energy Commission’s Uranium Mining Subcommittee met and  unanimously selected Chmura Economics &Analytics of Richmond from among five other consulting groups that made presentations to prepare a $200,000 socio-economic study commissioned by the state, as required by the Assemby. The company's past experience has been in the study of the economic impact of highway investments and airports.  Phillip Lovelace, a Pittsylvania County farmer opposing proposed uranium mining at Coles Hill, said  that he was disappointed that a public comment period wasn’t on the agenda for the meeting in Richmond on Wednesday.

In addition, the National Academy of Sciences committee will spend three days in Danville as part of its study to assess the potential statewide consequences of uranium mining in Virginia. The panel convenes today to hear from representatives from theSELC and the Dan River Basin Association. Monday night, residents will have their say at a session described as a town hall meeting.The study is "sponsored"  by the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, but the funding comes from Virginia Uranium, Inc., the company which is "bringing the energy benefits of uranium to our nation and the economic benefits of uranium development to Southside Virginia."

[It's] affiliate company, Virginia Uranium Ltd., merged with Santoy Resources Ltd on July 21, 2009. The newly merged company, Virginia Energy Resources Inc., holds 22.2% indirect ownership interest in the Coles Hill project. Virginia Energy Resources is trading on the Toronto Venture Stock Exchange.

December 7, More than 30 people attended a meeting at the Henry County Administration Building that was advertised as “Community Meeting to Stop Cancer Causing Practice in Southside.” The event was co-hosted by the Virginia Sierra Club, Martinsville-Henry County Voters League and Virginia Interfaith Power & Light.

The mining issue is being raised in the special election to fill the Virginia 19th District Senate seat vacated by Robert Hurt's defeat of Tom Perriello to represent the area in the U.S. Congress.
I've had contact with Cale Jaffe, SELC's  the assigned attorney before--he's been involved in fighting coal plants in Virginia--he's based out of Charlottesville.  I'll see if he's available for an interview.