Uranium Debate Generates Heat

There’s a huge debate brewing over whether to study the feasibility of uranium mining in Pittsylvania County. Sen. Frank W. Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, has submitted a bill to create a 15-member commission to assess the benefits and risks. A proposal just to study uranium mining, it seems, is highly controversial. There are many people in Pittsylvania County, the location of North America’s richest uranium deposit, who don’t even want to open up the possibility of reversing a 25-year moratorium on mining. (See the Times-Dispatch story on the latest developments in the General Assembly.)

I don’t profess any expertise whatsoever on the environmental impact of uranium mining. Foes contend that uranium mining produces large tailings piles of water-soluble, radioactive waste. Not something you want leaching into the water table. On the other hand, there may well have been significant advances in engineering and technology that allow the uranium to be processed safely. How do we know unless we get someone to study the question?

There’s a lot riding on this issue. Uranium mining in Virginia could lead to investment in uranium processing facilities as well. Combine that with the presence of nuclear service and design enterprises in Lynchburg (and Newport News as well, now that Northrup Grumman is getting into the business) as well as nuclear power generation by Dominion. The potential exists to build a world-class industry cluster based on nuclear power — creating a major high-tech growth industry for Southside/Central Virginia where no other obvious candidate exists.

The prospect of creating a new industry cluster does not justify despoiling large swaths of Pittsylvania County for the next 10,000 or more years. But surely it is reason enough to take a second look. Surely the General Assembly can create a study commission with a balance of industry and environmental expertise that can go out and ascertain under what circumstances, and with what safeguards, and at what risk, uranium mining might be possible.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    This is another “trust” issue.

    Who will be on the commission?

    what are their credentials?

    Will commission members be known advocates or opponents and/or will any of them have potential conflict of interests?

    How TRANSPARENT will it operate?

    Will there be an effort to fully document and access existing mining especially with respect to the kinds of issues that are a concern?

    I’ve said all along that if there really is an honest effort at fact-finding then such an effort will be fully above board and transparent – not that someone claims it is but that many/mlst(not all) those who have the concerns actually agree that it is a fair and disproportionate processed focused on generating facts.

    Proposals like this that do NOT start out with this promise undermine trust and foster opposition against what is feared to be little more than a back-door attempt to justify moving forward.

    And I’m with the opponents right now because they are basically asking what the specific proposal is to gather information about rather than such a wide-open, AD HOC process that has no specific goals and objectives with respect to what information will be gathered.

    Another approach.. that would bolster/gain public support would be the involvement perhaps direction of JLARC and/or the VAPC.

    Again.. if you want the trust of the public -you haved to start off with clear intentions and if you don’t.. then don’t be surprised if you have opposition.

    Over and over in this BLOG.. whether it be Dulles Rail or Transportation Authorities or dozens of other issues – there is a dominant theme of a lack of trust in the public process.

    We have two excellent permanent study commissions – that to date – have demonstrated professional no-pulled-punches approach to fact finding and recommendations.

    Why not .. for, at least the most controversial proposals.. put the trust issue to bed by giving these agencies a prominent role?

    What’s justification for an AD HOC Commission?

    Why not have a BILL that directs JLARC to study the issue?

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Larry, you are right. The big issue in my mind is not whether we should study the practicality of uranium mining — obviously, I think we should — but ensuring that the commission has sufficient diversity of viewpoints, sufficient expertise and sufficient transparency to have any credibility once the study is complete. It is imperative to assemble a commission that will have credibility among all parties, or the exercise isn’t worth conducting at all.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    You can’t trust the commission because of Dominion/General Assembly ties.

    Larry is right. The only non-sneaky way is to get JLARC to do it.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Are we talking mining only or mining and refining?


  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    we’re at the point to where we know from core samples where the uranium is (and not) and what quality the ore would be.

    the rest.. is up in the air…and the purpose of the “study” is to determine if it can be “mined” safely.

    The term “mine” may or may not be all inclusive to include “refining” but at this point I suspect that most folks don’t even know the difference between the two.

  6. Anonymous Avatar



    Click through the whole slideshow….it’s very informative.

    After reading it perhaps all we may want to do is mine the stuff….


  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Very informative. Thank you.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry, your comments about trust are critical. We in Fairfax County are seeing the Tysons Land Use Task Force begin to take the position that, despite all the county documents stating that access to rail mass transport and major road improvements are conditions precedent to the consideration of additional density, the likely demise of the current Dulles Rail plan is no reason to stop the work of the Task Force.

    I guess if we cannot have Transit Oriented Development, we can still have Imaginary Transit Oriented Development.

    The issue of uranium mining should be explored, but the good people of Pittsylvania deserve a fair and open exploration of all the issues — not just who gets to make a quick buck.


  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I haven’t made much headway with the idea of referenda…as a way to force the elected to recognize how the public feels – as opposed to the idea that they know best.

    the opposition is that “crazy” things can happen with referenda and my retort to that is .. yes.. ‘crazy” things CAN happen if a legislator finds out that 70% of the public is opposed to something he/she is in favor of…

    but attempts to get the GA just to ALLOW citizen-initiated ADVISORY referenda is opposed… also…

    so one way that local groups can achieve the same result is to conduct their own advisory polls – at election time.. at the POLLs from the same folks who are voting.

    We had some limited success in Spotsylvania with a local group before I left the group.

    We asked folks if they would be willing to pay for ambulance service if it would result in county-wide 24/7 service. They said yes and in large numbers and the BOS seeing that poll.. went ahead with it.

    We asked folks if they wanted staggered BOS terms and 80% said yes and it took 3 years but the BOS finally did vote for Staggered terms.

    My only caveat is that citizens groups must be absolutely scrupulous in how they phrase POLL questions.. totally neutral and fair… or else the POLL will get ignored and the group doing the POLL will be dismissed as an advocacy group.

    It can be done.. but the focus of the group has to be on good government and the involvement of the public – and let the public speak even if they end up being opposed to your own views….

    Elections in Va do not change things because by the time someone is voted out… they’ve already made decisions that cannot be easily undone…

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    “Elections in Va do not change things because by the time someone is voted out… they’ve already made decisions that cannot be easily undone…”

    You mean because of things like staggered terms?


  11. Groveton Avatar

    Mine uranium?

    Of course we should mine uranium. Look at how big a benefit nuclear power has created for France:


    Wait a minute …. why is the topic of French nuclear power being covered by the Australian uranium industry? Does France get its uranium from Australia? If so, I wonder if there are any counter arguments to the benefits of mining uranium in Australia. Hmmmm….it seems there are some counter arguments:


  12. Anonymous Avatar

    Well done, Groveton.


  13. Anonymous Avatar

    The problem in France is the same as what Larry says about global warming.

    One “Oh crap!” wipes out a million “Atta boys”.

    A small probability against an infinite cost does not seem to be the same as a larger probablity, even a repeated one against a smpller cost.

    It is why people prefer to drive over fly.

    You can crash and recover, but you cannot incinerate and recover.

    But, the situation with operating refined nuclear products and simply mining them is far different.

    Virginia could well decide this is not worth it, now. And change their mind in a hundred years. When you are freezing in the dark, your priorities and values change.


  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    we’ve got folks right now that live in homes “off the grid”.

    I’m not advocating that this is what folks would willingly choose but the canard of “freezing in the dark” – as usual is an example of binary thinking.

    People in many parts of the world do quite well.. (and are healthier than Americans statistically) by heating and lighting the room that they occupy and by using things like tankless water heaters.

    A not unreasonable goal for the US would be to shoot for the per capita consumption of other industrialized countries – as a starting point for deciding how much more power generation that we need.

    Most people in this country do not want unlimited cheap power.. they actually want to be frugal but they lack the basic tools and information to make informed choices.

    If we priced power to guarantee everyone CHEAP per capita average and put a price premium on everything over that including peak power no one would end up “freezing in the dark”…

Leave a Reply