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COMMUNITY VOICE: Honest discussion needed on uranium mining

The people of Southside Virginia deserve an honest discussion about uranium mining in Pittsylvania County. We deserve a discussion based on science and facts that informs us, rather than stirring up our fears and emotions.

Unfortunately, for too long mining opponents have deliberately misinformed and misled this community and appealed to our fears and emotions. 

And for too long the media and the silent majority of Pittsylvania County residents who support uranium mining have allowed them to do so.

Speaking for the more than 3,000 members of the People for Economic Prosperity who support uranium mining in Pittsylvania County, we’ve had enough. We’re tired of the reckless misinformation and scare tactics, and we’re not going to stand for it any longer.

The most recent example is the outlandish claim made by Katie Whitehead and other uranium mining opponents that Virginia Uranium plans to open the Coles Hill facility in order to import uranium waste from outside of Virginia. 

This is a total fabrication and is based on zero factual information. While it’s true that the White Mesa uranium mill in Utah imports “alternative feed” from other sites, that’s because it isn’t located on an actual uranium mine site. 

The Coles Hill operation, however, is located on the largest uranium deposit in the entire U.S and therefore will have no need to import uranium from other sites.

Another scare tactic favored by Mrs. Whitehead and other mining opponents is the misleading claim that 99 percent of the ore mined at Coles Hill will remain at the site for perpetuity in the form of radioactive mill tailings. They say tailings contain “dangerous” radioactive substances such as thorium, radon and radium and mislead you into fearing that these
substances were not already in the ground at Coles Hill and were somehow created during the milling process. Yet, the opposite is true.

The truth is that these substances have been in the ground at Coles Hill for 400 million years. All Virginia Uranium wants to do is remove the less than 1 percent of the rock that contains uranium and then safely put the rest back into the ground in secure, heavily-lined structures that are completely isolated from streams and rivers on the surface and the groundwater below. 

Most of these “tailings” are the common, harmless minerals quartz and feldspar, and only tiny traces are radioactive elements. Most importantly, they’ve been naturally occurring at Coles Hill for 400 million years.

Uranium opponents have also misled you to believe that these tailings will be put in unlined, above-ground impoundments that will pollute your groundwater and wash into streams and rivers during heavy storms. Again, this is a total fabrication intended to scare you, rather than informing you.

The truth is that Virginia Uranium has committed to storing all tailings in double-lined, below-ground structure – the exact structures recommended by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study in 2011. 

The NAS study concluded that these structures are perfectly safe and that for decades they have protected groundwater, streams and rivers surrounding uranium mining operations. 

Not only has the company committed to this, but the legislation introduced in 2013 by Senator John Watkins and Delegate
Jackson Miller required the company to do so.

These aren’t opinions open for debate. These are proven, scientific facts. And they’ve been withheld from people in this community for too long because of the misinformation and scare tactics used by uranium mining opponents.

Lastly, I must address the personal attacks Mrs. Whitehead and others have made against the People for Economic Prosperity (PEP) by questioning our interest in the health and safety of this community. 

Our group is made up of 3,000 Southside Virginia farmers, businessmen and citizens who want to see a brighter economic future for our region. Most of us were born and raised in Southside and are raising our families here. We have nothing to gain financially from the Coles Hill project, other than a shared future prosperity for our region.

We all drink the same water and breathe the same air. If we weren’t absolutely convinced that uranium mining could be done safely and under strict regulatory control, we wouldn’t support it. But we are not guided by fear or emotion. We are guided by science and facts. 

And the facts are clear: uranium mining will be done safely, and it will be strictly regulated. That’s why we support the Coles Hill project, and that’s why we won’t let mining opponents obscure the facts any longer.

Chris Dunlap is vice chairman of PEP (People for Economic Prosperity)