Virginia Mining Wars

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Virginia Uranium Inc. is pushing to lift a 30-year ban on uranium mining in Virginia so it can mine and mill the radioactive metal in Southside where the waste would remain toxic for centuries. Citizens statewide are concerned about the dangers of uranium mining to drinking water, air quality, farm products, fishing, and tourism.

In an effort to remove the ban, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell commissioned a “study group”, made up of state officials and paid experts, tasked at looking at the safety of mining in Pittsylvania and at possible mining regulations.

The public response to this has been a strong rebuttal of what is seen as obfuscation by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s study group.  Most studies and reports (some of which were requested by Virginia Uranium itself) state the essential need for transparency in deliberations on the subject of uranium mining, and most experts agree that such important decisions should be made “founded on principles of openness.”

. At present, this does not seem to be an important factor in the Governors decision-making process.

McDonnell’s group is holding four public meetings but says other meetings would be closed. The group is making some documents public but keeping others confidential until they are released in a final report.

Since 1981 uranium prices and quantities in the US are reported by the Department of Energy.  The import price dropped from 32.90 US$/lb-U3O8 in 1981 down to 12.55 in 1990 and to below 10 US$/lb-U3O8in the year 2000. Prices paid for uranium during the 1970s were higher, 43 US$/lb-U3O8 is reported as the selling price for Australian uranium in 1978 by the Nuclear Information Centre.

According to a report released this month by Environment Virginia, Virginia is second-worst in the nation for toxic chemicals dumped into its waterways.[1]  Industrial facilities dumped 226 million pounds of toxic chemicals into more than 1,400 American waterways in all 50 states in 2010, according to the federal government’s Toxic Release Inventory.

A National Academy of Sciences panel released a $1.4 million report in December saying Virginia faced “steep hurdles” in protecting people and the environment if the state were to allow uranium mining.  The panel is now holding public briefings to explain the report to people and answer questions. One of those briefings drew about 40 people to the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Richmond on Friday night.

“What the governor is doing seems inconsistent with the recommendations of (the academy panel’s) report,” Glen Besa, director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, said after his presentation.

Good stewardship means taking action to ensure that the natural, cultural and historic resources treasured by Virginians are available for future generations to enjoy. Protecting land also helps meet important goals for water quality, wildlife habitat, recreation, and overall quality of life.

In 2009 alone, 3.2 trillion pounds of sediment made their way from Virginia sources into the Chesapeake Bay.[2]

Virginia has lost over 200,000 acres of forest, farm, and other rural land to development between 2002 and 2007.[3]

Poor air quality causes increased deaths, especially among the very young and the very old. It reduces water quality and damages forest resources, agriculture and materials. It also makes Virginia a less attractive place to live, do business in or visit — all substantial economic as well as quality-of-life consequences.

For the first time in recorded history, average exposure in Virginia (11.2 micrograms of fine particles per cubic meter) is now lower than the United States average (11.4). [4] Why would Virginia want to turn its back on the progress that it has made to this point?

Uranium ore emits radon gas. The health effects of high exposure to radon is a particular problem in the mining of uranium; significant excess lung cancer deaths have been identified in epidemiological studies of uranium miners employed in the 1940s and 1950s.

In studies of uranium miners, workers exposed to radon levels of 50 to 150 picocuries of radon per liter of air (2000–6000 Bq/m3) for about 10 years have shown an increased frequency of lung cancer.[5]



[1] (Virginia E. , 2012)

[2] (Virginia S. o., Water Quality, 2012)

[3] (Virginia S. o., Land Preservation, 2012)

[4] (Virginia S. o., Air Quality Summary, 2012)

[5] (Registry, 1990)


Registry, A. f. (1990, December). Toxological profile for radon. Retrieved from U.S. Public Health Service, In collaboration with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

Virginia, E. (2012, March 22). Wasting Our Waterways: Industrial Toxic Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act. Retrieved from

Virginia, S. o. (2012). Air Quality Summary. Retrieved from Virginia Performs – State of Virginia:

Virginia, S. o. (2012). Land Preservation. Retrieved from Virginia Performs:

Virginia, S. o. (2012). Water Quality. Retrieved from Virginia Performs – State of Virginia:




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