Friday, January 11, 2008

Uranium mine idea sparks debate in southern Va.

A deposit of uranium ore could mean millions for the owner of some southern Virginia farmland, but so far it has only served to make him a controversial figure in his community and create an issue for the state legislature.

Despite the opposition of many of his neighbors, Walter Coles, the owner of the farm and the chairman of Virginia Uranium Inc., wants the state to allow independent testing to see if mining can be done safely in Pittsylvania County, reports Duncan Adams of The Roanoke Times (which produced the map).

The controversy has made Coles and his efforts a common topic on the opinion pages of The Chatham Star-Tribune, an 8,300-circulation weekly that serves the county. One letter asked if Pittsyvlania County wanted to be a "National Sacrifice Area," referencing worries about radioactive material left behind by the mining. (Adams reports that one petition in the community reads, "Heck no! We won't glow!") In a Jan. 2 letter to the Star-Tribune, Coles wrote that the deposit "is estimated to be the largest known untapped uranium deposit in the U.S." and could bring millions to the community.

The Danville Register & Bee, a 21,000-circulation daily, said in an editorial, "The uranium challenge facing this community is simple. People have to learn the facts about uranium mining so that they can better guide their local and state legislators. But they need to hurry."

This week, Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, introduced a bill to create a commission to explore mining uranium in Virginia. A 1983 ban on uranium mining in the state is still in effect, Adams reports. Earlier this week, the Pittsylvania County zoning board granted a permit allowing Virginia Uranium to construct storage buildings as part of its exploratory work.

While Coles touts the economic impact of the uranium, opponents cite safety concerns. "Many residents have concerns about short — and long-term control and monitoring of the sandy 'tailings' that remain after milling — byproducts containing radioactive materials and hazardous heavy metals," Adams writes. (Read more)

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