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NC opposition builds to proposed Virginia uranium mine

Posted January 8, 2013

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— As legislation that would allow uranium mining in Virginia advances through that state's legislature, opposition to the move is growing in North Carolina.

A group of Virginia lawmakers voted Monday to approve a bill that would lift a 31-year-old ban on uranium mining and allow the practice in Chatham, Va., where a 119 million-pound deposit of uranium – the $7 billion vein is the largest in the U.S. – is located.

The bill now goes to the full legislature, which convenes Wednesday.

"North Carolina will be fighting this," Deborah Ferruccio, who lives near Kerr Lake in Warren County, said Tuesday.

The uranium mine would be about 40 miles from the headwaters of Kerr Lake, and residents fear waste could flow into the lake, which is also used as a drinking water source.

"My recreation is going fishing," said Lee Figgs, of Mecklenburg County, Va. "I fish at Kerr Lake, at Still Bridge, and I'm worried about the contamination of the waters and the soil."

Full-scale uranium mining has never occurred on the East Coast, but Virginia Uranium, which would operate the so-called Coles Hill mine, contends that extracting and processing the radioactive element can be done safely using best industry practices. The company has said it will store the waste in below-ground containment units.

Kerr Lake Uranium mine boosters dismiss NC concerns

"We're far more dependent on foreign uranium than we are (on) foreign oil," said Patrick Wales, a project manager with Virginia Uranium. "We have an opportunity here to safely develop the uranium mines that would reduce that dependence."

Jay Lehr, science director of libertarian think tank Heartland Institute, which has called for lifting the mining ban, dismissed the concerns of Kerr Lake residents as overblown.

"No. 1, the chances of (uranium) getting in the water are infinitesimal, and No. 2, if it did get in, it's easily treated in a standard, conventional water treatment plant," Lehr said.

Still, North Carolina lawmakers aren't taking any chances. Members of the General Assembly's Environmental Review Commission sent a letter last month to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell expressing "significant concern" about the potential for environmental damage.

"The commission requests that you consider the possible adverse impacts to Kerr Lake, Lake Gaston and many communities in northeastern North Carolina," commission leaders Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston, Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, and former Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell, wrote in the letter.

Virginia Uranium has said the expected life of the uranium mine would be 35 years – the waste would have to be stored for years after that – and it would employ about 350 people.

"I've always believed in life before money," said Tommie Harris, of Warren County.

Harris and other Kerr Lake residents said they want their concerns heard before the Virginia legislature takes up the mining bill.

"The legal public hearings have been held in Virginia – not one in North Carolina," Ferruccio said.

Even if the bill is approved, officials said it would take at least five years for Virginia Uranium to obtain all required permits to begin mining.

15 Comments

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  • weasel2 Jan 9, 2:54 p.m.

    Based on recent technology up to 90% of uranium/radium can be removed by reverse osmosis. Other methods further remove more contaminants. As long as the actual mining is done correct it should not bother the watershed areas.

  • delta29alpha Jan 9, 8:59 a.m.

    First off do we need the Uranium? Do we have sufficient sources currently to supply our power plant needs. If not how can it be mined as safely as possible at this site or is there other safer sites available. What we need is almost impossible to find, a true and unbiased scientific opinion of the safety and feasibility of this project.

  • kayakfisher15 Jan 8, 7:53 p.m.

    You should all look up the facts about Uranium mining before commenting. Other sites have been damaged beyond repair. It is not about just the lakes, it is about our region, our community, our lives, our health. Not just the people that live on the lakes. It can effect millions of people in a very negative way. The jobs are very few that will come from the mines so do not use that as a argument. Have you noticed it is not even an American company?

  • SaveEnergyMan Jan 8, 7:13 p.m.

    Conventional water treatment removes the uranium and other solids in the water. Since the uranium is removed, the radioactivity is removed too.

    The uranium mined is not highly radioactive by itself - uranium occurs naturally in many rocks at low levels. Bombs and power plant rods are highly refined with more radioactive U-235. U-238 (99%+ of natural uranium) decays with alpha particles, which are not terribly dangerous. Not to say mining is not without risks - just that we can't equate uranium mining with highly radioactive nuclear waste - they are very different things.

  • cruzinlong Jan 8, 6:50 p.m.

    "Still, North Carolina lawmakers aren't taking any chances. Members of the General Assembly's Environmental Review Commission sent a letter last month to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell expressing "significant concern" about the potential for environmental damage."

    I guess it's ok to frack away as long as you keep THAT enviromental damaging activity away from our major rec. lakes, is the thinking of our G.A. ?!
    How many people in the G.A. have property on Kerr and Gaston Lakes ?
    Raise your hands please.

  • hp277 Jan 8, 6:21 p.m.

    "No. 1, the chances of (uranium) getting in the water are infinitesimal, and No. 2, if it did get in, it's easily treated in a standard, conventional water treatment plant," Lehr said.

    Conventional water treatment removes radioactivity? Really? That's a lie.

  • ConservativeVoter Jan 8, 6:17 p.m.

    Another case of North Carolina sticking it's nose in other state's affairs.

  • whatelseisnew Jan 8, 6:17 p.m.

    Go for it Virginia.

  • wayneboyd Jan 8, 6:16 p.m.

    Froggy girl, I prefer having a uranium mine for a neighbor over a tree hugger any day!

  • superman Jan 8, 5:57 p.m.

    This is a classic example of it is ok near your house but I dont want it near mine. We need oil but if it is in your backyard you wouldnt want to drill. It is a different story if the oil is in my backyard.

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