About thirty years ago a massive uranium deposit was discovered in our county. It is estimated that it contains about 119 million pounds of uranium, worth billions of dollars.
The site is about 20 miles from our farm.
Virginia currently does not permit uranium mining and milling in the state.
Lots of money and energy have been expended lobbying for and against lifting the ban. It will be one of the major topics at the General Assembly this year.
Friday Cherie and I attended a press conference by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, in which he announced his opposition to lifting the ban. The previous Saturday I had attended a workshop (on a different subject) of local farmers and others in ag-related businesses, all but one of whom strongly opposed lifting the ban. Every legislator in our area has come out in opposition to lifting it, as have all the city councils and county commissions from here to the coast. The area Chamber of Commerce opposes it as do a solid majority of the citizens here. So why is this still being discussed and why is there a significant possibility that the ban will be lifted next year? If this deposit were in nothern Virginia would this discussion even be occuring?
I could go on at great length about this, but I won’t (for now). I firmly believe that a prosperous future here depends upon agriculture, not mining. Just as our past is agricultural, so should be our future. To those who insist that uranium would bring prosperity, I ask–If extraction mining brings prosperity, then why isn’t West Virginia the wealthiest state in the country, rather than one of the poorest?
Lt. Gov. Bolling’s remarks were balanced and well-reasoned. His chief responsibility in the administration is job creation. He is a conservative Republican (as our almost all of our local legislators). He cited three main reasons for his decision: 1) It appears the job loss caused by the stigma and risk associated with proximity to an active uranium mine and mill will likely exceed any expected job gains, 2) no matter how much the risk of catastrophe is contained, it cannot be eliminated and the consequences of catastophe here (especially considering where we are on the watershed) would be too great to justify the risk and 3) the people and businesses of this locality are solidly against it, so it would be wrong to have it forced on them by outsiders. I think his reasoning is unassailable.
Cherie and I attended a public hearing on the proposed regulations that would accompany lifting the ban. Among other things, in the ban is lifted and uranium mining commences farms like ours would be subject to inspection by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to monitor for radionuclide contamination in our produce, poultry and livestock. VDH would have the right and obligation to monitor and test our private wells. They could order abandonment of our wells, which are the only sources of our personal drinking water, as well as our irrigation and livestock watering. Not only would the food we produce potentially be contaminated, but we’d suffer the stigma associated with the risk of that and be compelled to surrender a little more of our liberty to the state.
The freedom to do as one wishes with one’s own property is dear to me. But that liberty has always been restricted by an essential caveat: “provided you do no harm to your neighbors.”
If there is any benefit at all to uranium mining here it will be primarily to a Canadian uranium company that will export the profits of its operation and leave us with the costs of it.
Our community should not be sacrificed on an industrial altar.
Keep the Ban.