Council opposes uranium mining

Published 10:16 pm Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Suffolk City Council approved a resolution opposing uranium mining in Virginia with no discussion during its meeting Wednesday night.

A proposed uranium mining operation in Pittsylvania County is upstream from part of Hampton Roads’ water supply, and local concerns about the possibility of water contamination have prompted several localities to take a position against lifting a moratorium on uranium mining.

The statewide ban has been in effect for 30 years, but Virginia Uranium Inc. wants to mine an estimated 119-million pound uranium ore deposit at Coles Hill. The site is about 30 miles north of Danville.

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The remnants of the uranium mining process, known as tailings, are radioactive and easily transmitted via air and water. They would be stored in above-ground disposal cells.

However, two studies on the project found that one large, or several small, releases of the material would reverse the economic benefit of the project, even if no serious harm to people or the environment occurred.

A discharge into the Roanoke River system would eventually contaminate Lake Gaston, the studies found. The lake supplies up to one-third of the water in the Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake water systems during a drought.

The Western Tidewater Water Authority, which consists of Suffolk and Isle of Wight County, has a deal to buy water from Norfolk through 2048.

The adverse consequences of an accident “would be enormous and unacceptable for the Hampton Roads region, and the city of Suffolk,” according to the ordinance adopted by City Council.