For Immediate Release
May 12, 2011 (corrected May 17, 2011)
Coalition to Keep the Ban on Uranium Mining in Virginia Growing Statewide
Coalition announces dozens of supporting localities and groups, launches petition drive and website
Cale Jaffe, Southern Environmental Law Center, 434-977-4090
Mary Rafferty, Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, 804-225-9113, ext 105
Naomi Hodge-Muse, President of the Martinsville/Henry County NAACP, 276-632-9674
RICHMOND, VA – The Keep the Ban Coalition today announced 41 localities and organizations that have taken action—writing letters, adopting resolutions, etc.—that support keeping in place the state’s longstanding ban on uranium mining. This is evidence of a growing statewide movement. Local governments that have passed resolutions or otherwise taken action include the City of Virginia Beach, and civic groups include the Reston-based National Wildlife Federation, whose membership passed a national resolution of support in April.
The coalition today also launched a statewide petition drive, starting with 1,000 signatures of Virginians who support keeping the ban on uranium mining, and launched a new website, www.keeptheban.org, aimed at raising awareness of the health, environmental and socio-economic impacts associated with uranium mining, milling and waste disposal. Uranium has never been mined commercially in the East, nor in a predominantly wet-climate region of the U.S., like Virginia.
“Virginia has had a ban in place on mining uranium for nearly 30 years, and for good reason,” said Naomi Hodge-Muse, president of the Martinsville-Henry County NAACP and leader of the Sierra Club Keep the Ban Team, Martinsville. “There are just too many questions and potential risks of radioactive and toxic materials contaminating our streams, rivers and drinking water. With all the storms and hurricanes we get, this is the worst possible place you could put a uranium operation.”
The uranium industry is lobbying to lift the ban and begin mining uranium in Virginia, starting at a major deposit at a Pittsylvania County site called Coles Hill, first discovered in the late 1970s. The industry also secured leases on other suspected deposits in Culpeper, Fauquier, Floyd, Henry, Madison, Orange, Patrick, and Pittsylvania counties. Potential uranium deposits were also detected in Franklin and Nelson counties. Recently, Virginia Uranium, Inc. told Wall Street investors that it plans to introduce legislation lifting the uranium mining ban in the 2012 session of the General Assembly.
Coalition partners note the well-documented links between exposure to uranium waste and myriad health problems, including bone, liver and breast cancer, lung and kidney diseases, and birth defects. Another concern is the severity and frequency of storms in the region, which could damage uranium facilities and potentially wash contaminated storm water and uranium waste into nearby water resources. In the last 40 years, nine hurricanes and countless other major storms have deluged Virginia. In 1969, Hurricane Camille dumped 31 inches of rain on central Virginia. This April, at least 30 tornadoes were recorded in Virginia, including one in Halifax County about 20 miles from the Coles Hill site.
Virginia Beach, which gets its drinking water from Lake Gaston, downstream of the Coles Hill site, recently released the findings of its $437,000 study which concluded that a catastrophic failure of a uranium waste containment structure at the site could contaminate the city’s drinking water for as long as two years. Roughly 1.2 million people in Virginia and North Carolina rely on the Roanoke River system downstream of the Coles Hill site for drinking water.
Mary Rafferty with the Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter said that nine local groups have formed around the state in recent months to campaign for keeping the ban on uranium mining in Virginia (see list below).
“I’m fielding calls every week from concerned citizens across the state with requests for more information and for ways to get more involved. Mining proponents think this issue will be won behind closed doors in Richmond, but the people of Virginia are demanding it be debated in town halls and onfront porches,” said Rafferty.
“If the ban is lifted, it will be lifted statewide, which means Virginians throughout the state could potentially be affected by uranium mining, milling and waste disposal in their communities, or miles upstream,” said Cale Jaffe, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
The coalition website is designed to educate the public on the risks posed by lifting the ban on uranium mining, milling and waste disposal in Virginia. The site has fact sheets and press coverage on the issue, and visitors can sign a petition in favor of the ban and join a local volunteer group.
Government entities that have taken action related to keeping the ban within the last four years
City of Creedmor, NC
City of Henderson, NC
City of Virginia Beach, VA
Floyd County, VA
Halifax County, NC
Granville County, NC
Kerr-Tar Regional Council of Governments
Mecklenburg County, VA
Orange County, VA
Rappahannock County, VA
Town of Halifax, VA
Town of Hurt, VA
Town of Franklinton, NC
Town of Warrenton, NC
Vance County, NC
Warren County, NC
Organizations in support of the ban that are not members of the Keep the Ban Coalition
Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League
- Piedmont Residents in Defense of the Environment (PRIDE)
Buggs Island Striper Club
Halifax County Chamber of Commerce (VA)
Martinsville-Henry County Chapter of the NAACP
National Wildlife Federation
North Carolina Roanoke River Basin Advisory Committee
North Carolina Wildlife Federation
Southside Concerned Citizens
Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts
Volunteer groups organized with assistance from the Sierra Club-Virginia Chapter:
- Keep the Ban, Chesapeake
- Keep the Ban, Norfolk
- UBAN, Floyd County (VA)
- Roanoke Group of the Sierra Club
- Sierra Club Keep the Ban Team, Martinsville
Members of the Keep the Ban Coalition
Dan River Basin Association
League of Individuals for the Environment, Inc.
Roanoke River Basin Association
Piedmont Environmental Council
Sierra Club-Virginia Chapter
Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project
Southern Environmental Law Center
Virginia Bass Federation
Virginia Conservation Network
Virginia League of Conservation Voters