Henderson, N.C. — As Virginia considers lifting a 30-year-old ban on uranium mining, some North Carolina residents have been crossing the border to share their concerns about the possible environmental effects on this state.
Lifting the ban, which has been in place since 1982, would allow a Chatham, Va., company to tap into the nation's largest undeveloped resource of uranium. The question is how that could impact Kerr Lake and surrounding bodies of water, which straddle both states.
Some Warren County homeowners say they worry uranium waste could settle in the water, which is also used as a drinking water source. Last week, they went to a public hearing in Virginia to voice their concerns.
“It would be like opening Pandora’s box, not just for this region, but for the nation as a whole,” said Warren County resident Deborah Ferruccio. “(This is about) the powers-that-be wanting to get energy the quickest, easiest way they can get (it) without having to deal with the repercussions.”
Warren County resident Tommy Harris says allowing the mining “would be a huge mistake.”
“If there was just one bad accident or one mishap where the dust gets away, the stuff gets in our water,” Harris said. “There’s no telling how many people it would displace.”
Virginia Uranium, the company that controls the uranium resource, disagrees.
“You tell us what the rules are, and we’ll show you and demonstrate to you how we can design, build and operate the safest uranium mine in all of the world,” said Patrick Wales, project manager for Virginia Uranium.
“We think it’s a tremendous opportunity to reduce our nation’s dangerous dependence on foreign energy,” he added. “Uranium mining is absolutely safe. It’s conducted safely all around the world.”
Allowing the mining would also create jobs, according to Wales.
The decision on whether to allow mining is up to Virginia lawmakers and will probably be decided next year. If the ban is lifted, at least five years must pass before any work is done to allow time to get all the appropriate permits.
Some of those opposed to the project say they are committed to conducting nonviolent civil disobedience to show their opposition.