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River group opposes plan for uranium mining

The Roanoke River Basin Association (RRBA) passed a resolution Saturday opposing Virginia Uranium Inc.’s proposal to end Virginia’s ban on uranium mining. Virginia has had a moratorium on uranium mining since 1982, and Virginia Uranium Inc. officials have said they will push for legislation to lift the ban in the upcoming 2012 General Assembly session.

The RRBA’s action was prompted by the recent release of the findings of the City of Virginia Beach study of impacts of uranium mining on its water supply from Lake Gaston. 

The study concluded that in the event of a mill tailing confinement cell failure at the proposed uranium mine and mill site at Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County, the tailings will be washed downstream and will significantly impact water quality in Kerr Reservoir and Lake Gaston.

Pittsylvania County, located in the center of the Roanoke River Basin, is home to what is believed to be the largest uranium deposit in the United States.

Marline Uranium Corp. discovered the uranium — known as the Coles Hill deposit — in the early 1980s but later abandoned the project when the price of uranium dropped.

Walter Coles Sr., who owns the land and a majority of the ore, formed Virginia Uranium Inc. to explore the possibility of eventually mining the massive deposit, which is worth an estimated $10 billion.

Coles Hill, which is the name of Coles’ family’s historic home, is between the Sonans and Sheva communities, about six miles northeast of Chatham.

According to the Virginia Beach uranium study findings, radiation levels in Kerr Reservoir would rise 10-20 times above the Safe Drinking Water Act levels, and it could take up to two years to flush dissolved contaminants downstream. 

Particulate contaminants, the study found, would deposit in sediment and would be re-suspended during periods of high flow. 

“About 350,000 North Carolina residents rely on the Roanoke River Basin as their water supply.  Virginia Beach study made a scientific showing that water supply and economic well-being of the downstream communities in North Carolina will be at risk if Virginia decides to lift the 30-year ban on uranium mining,” said Greg Godard, executive director of Upper Coastal Plain Council of Governments, who also serves on the RRBA board.

Kerr Reservoir also supplies water to a number of Virginia communities in Mecklenburg and Brunswick Counties and the town of Clarksville. 

North Carolina Counties of Person, Vance, Warren, Franklin and the Town of Henderson, N.C. also rely on water from Kerr Reservoir. 
Kerr Lake Regional Water System is currently seeking a significant increase in the allowable amount of its daily withdrawals from Kerr Reservoir.  In addition, several years ago, the City of Raleigh, which is facing impending water supply issues, applied for a water allocation from Kerr Reservoir.

“What we at RRBA are most concerned about is the disproportionate impact on the basin.  If the ban is lifted, the basin will be affected more than any other potential uranium mining sites in Virginia,” said Gene Addesso, RRBA vice-president.

“The proposed uranium mill at Coles Hill will produce at least 28 million tons of radioactive mill tailings that will have to be stored and monitored on-site indefinitely.  It is likely that the mill will also process ore mined in other locations in the basin and throughout Virginia.

There is also a danger that during the “bust” price cycles the mill will be used to process low-radioactive waste transported from other states, as Denison Mines, the Virginia Uranium Inc.’s affiliate is doing now at its White Mesa Mill in Utah,” he added.