Southside legislators said there’s little local enthusiasm for overturning the moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia.
In fact, there’s “just the opposite,” said Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville.
The 1982 moratorium has been challenged in the past, but uranium mining has been so unpopular among Virginians that nothing has ever come of it.
Consolidated Uranium, a Toronto-based company, recently acquired the Coles Hill property in Pittsylvania County, which sits on top of the largest undeveloped uranium deposit in the country.
The company can’t extract the uranium because of the moratorium, though the acquisition might prompt another effort to overturn it.
But an early glimpse at things suggests that local support for uranium mining has not grown since the most recent attempt to undo the moratorium in 2013.
“I’m a property rights person,” Marshall said. But he still has concerns about radioactive waste that would result from uranium mining.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, uranium mining leaves behind radioactive waste regardless of how the uranium is extracted. Solid waste materials from uranium mining are called “tailings.”
“Those tailings are radioactive for another 500 years, I think,” Marshall said.
Actually, tailings take thousands of years to decay, producing a radioactive gas called radon as they do so, according to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
But the commission has rules “to protect public health and safety from the hazard that these tailings may pose,” like keeping them isolated in long-term storage or disposal, and requiring adequate funds to decommission a mining site, close the tailings pile properly, and monitor the site over the long term.
Still, both Marshall and Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Mecklenburg County, said there’s not much local support for overturning the moratorium.
Because of redistricting, Ruff’s representation area will include Pittsylvania County after the 2023 elections, which makes him a future local voice on this issue.
“I do not believe anyone has changed their thoughts on uranium being mined and milled in the county,” he said in an email, adding that there is limited demand for uranium right now, especially at the cost of setting up a new operation.
But that may not be the case in the future, he said.
“I would assume that the Canadian company is banking on that,” Ruff said. “The price of uranium would have to rise dramatically to justify this project.”
Del. Les Adams, a Republican from Pittsylvania County, has not heard of any new interest at the state level to overturn the moratorium either, according to his chief of staff, Shani Shorter.
The Virginia House of Delegates Commerce and Energy commission had an energy retreat this summer, before the Coles Hill acquisition, Marshall said.
Experts spoke about uranium, saying there is an oversupply on the market and the price is low. It doesn’t make economic sense to mine uranium at Coles Hill, the experts said, according to Marshall.
But Consolidated Uranium disagrees.
“It’s economically beneficial to the state and could be done safely,” said Marty Tunney, president of Consolidated Uranium. The company will likely push for the moratorium to be overturned in the future, though they have no plans to do so currently, Tunney said.
If people were more informed about the new technologies and safety protocols in uranium mining, they might be less opposed to it, Tunney said.