Halifax County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors has gone on record adamantly opposing uranium mining in the commonwealth.
According to Chamber President Nancy Pool, the board adopted an anti-uranium resolution during its Sept. 27 meeting.
The Halifax County Chamber of Commerce created a task force in 2008, as requested by then Delegate Clarke Hogan, tostudy the issue of uranium mining in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The task force sought questions and concerns from local citizens, interviewed a number of people, did extensive reading and research and ultimately created a report titled “Community Concerns Related to Uranium Mining in Virginia” released in December 2008, Pool said.
Following that report, the Chamber’s board of directors adopted a resolution calling for a thorough, evidence-based study by a credible, independent scientific body.
“A number of studies have been completed since that time by reputable sources and no assurance was made that uranium can be mined safely, without affecting the health, economy or environment of Halifax County. The chamber’s board wanted to go on record with a resolution stating opposition to lifting the ban on uranium mining in the commonwealth,” Pool said explaining the board’s decision to adopt an anti-uranium resolution.
In the resolution, directors reaffirmed the chamber’s opposition to lifting the ban on uranium mining in Virginia and is making its position known to the state chamber and to General Assembly members.
A legislative moratorium prohibiting uranium mining in the state has been in place since 1982, and the issue of lifting the ban was revisited in 2007 when the price of uranium increased significantly, renewing business interest in mining, according to the resolution.
The Coles Hill deposit was discovered in the early 1980s approximately six miles northeast of Chatham in Pittsylvania County. The deposit’s value has been estimated at $7 billion. Several years ago, Walter Coles Sr. and Henry Bowen – the major landowners - formed Virginia Uranium Inc. to mine the uranium.
Virginia Uranium Inc. has developed plans to initiate mining and processing uranium at the Coles Hill Site in neighboring Pittsylvania County, and chamber directors expressed concern the site that is upstream of Halifax County lies in close proximity to the Banister River, a source of drinking water for thousands of citizens in southern Virginia.
According to the resolution, since 2007 a number of studies have been completed by reputable sources such as the National Academies of Science, Chmura Economics and others, and the county chamber also has sponsored its own thorough review of uranium mining.
In the chamber’s review, the resolution states it was determined the uranium mining industry has experienced widespread, frequent and repeated environmental excursions which have contaminated groundwater and aquifers with toxic materials.
The findings also reveal predictive modeling by mine operators has often been unreliable with the consequence that initial permitted environmental standards, judged appropriate and protective of health, frequently have been violated.
Remediation of contaminated groundwater and aquifers to their original state has proven to be expensive and rarely successful in full restoring water quality as well, the resolution states.
Most uranium mining in the United States has been conducted in the west, in arid areas with sparse surrounding populations, unlike Halifax County, their findings conclude.
In addition, the chamber’s review found uranium mining has been opposed by many medical and environmental organizations in the United States and Canada and has been prohibited by various local, state and provincial governments due to its environmental record and perceived health risks.
It is necessary for the ban to continue on mining uranium since both Pittsylvania County and Halifax County have considerable annual rainfall and net precipitation, have experienced frequent severe weather events, a recent earthquake and have a hydrogeological profile that will present difficult challenges to the mine operator, the resolution states.
Also the moratorium’s continuance is necessary because both Pittsylvania and Halifax counties have significant populations that reside in proximity, downwind and downstream from the proposed mining site.
The resolution refers to the National Academies of Science study that indicates disposal cells in which radioactive tailings are stored represent significant long-term risks for radiological and other contamination. That study also said limited data exist to confirm the long-term effectiveness of uranium tailing disposal cells; and extreme natural events combined with human error have the potential to result in the release of contaminants if disposal cells are not designed, constructed or maintained properly or if such cells fail to perform as envisioned.
According to the chamber’s resolution, the National Academies of Science study concluded Virginia has no experience with uranium mining, and the federal government has little or no experience applying existing laws and regulations to states with wet climates and extreme precipitation events and gaps exist in legal, and regulatory coverage for activities associated with uranium mining.
Another strong reason for adopting the resolution, chamber directors firmly believe a release of radioactive tailings such as that modeled in the Virginia Beach studies would have devastating adverse economic and other effects from the site in Pittsylvania County all the way to the Hampton Roads region and localities adjacent to and downstream of the Coles Hill site both in Virginia and North Carolina.
A release of any proportion also would result in serious economic impacts to those areas specifically along the Banister River as well as any locality in both Virginia and North Carolina that borders the John Kerr Reservoir/Buggs Island Lake and Lake Gaston due to negative public perceptions and resulting damage to the region’s image and reputation as attractive business and vacation destinations, according to the newly adopted chamber resolution.
The Chmura study concluded one of the most significant evidence of economic cost to the region is the potential negative stigma effects uranium mining would have impacting agriculture, tourism and other industries.
Already evidence exists of negative impacts in the Southside region with reduced real estate values and difficulties in job recruitment resulting from the negative stigma associated with uranium mining, the resolution states.
And finally, chamber directors believe it is absolutely certain no assurance can be given that uranium can be mined safely in the commonwealth at the Coles Hill site without incident and that no harm will be imposed on the health, economy or environment of Halifax County or any other locality in southern Virginia.
The General Assembly may hold a vote on lifting the mining ban in early 2013.