Environmentalists are concerned that uranium mining could have long-term consequences for Pittsylvania waterways.
An epic battle is brewing in Virginia over whether or not the commonwealth should overturn a longstanding moratorium on uranium mining.
Chatham-based Virginia Uranium Incorporated is pushing hard to overturn a moratorium on uranium mining, which has been in place for 30 years. The company donated $147,000 to the George Mason University Foundation to sponsor research outlining the economic benefits of Uranium Mining to Pittslvania County. That's the location of the largest undeveloped uranium deposits in the nation.
In the last year, the company has contributed more than $50,000 to legislators and political action committees, even though the election isn't until next year. And the company has hired 19 lobbyists from five different firms to persuade lawmakers that overturning the ban is safe.
"We have never apologized for our political contributions," says Virginia Uranium spokesman Patrick Wales. "We support members on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers, and we have a tremendous amount of support for what we are trying to accomplish."
Wales points out that several environmental groups are lobbying against the company's efforts to overturn the ban, and Virginia Uranium wants to make sure legislators know the potential benefits of uranium mining in Virginia. The company plans to store the radioactive byproducts underground, a method of curtailing pollution that supporters say is safe.
Sierra Club of Virginia Director Glen Besa says underground storag might be safe in the short term, but what happens if the radioactive material leaks in 50 years or one hundred years?
"Mining uranium upriver from a million people from who rely on that source of water as their drinking water, it just doesn't make sense," Besa says. "The risks far outweigh any of the benefits."
Caught in the middle are members of the General Assembly, who must make the final decision.
"Right now, I get a letter from pro-uranium people it can be mined safely," says Delegate Dave Alb, who is undecided. "Then I get a letter from anti-uranium people saying it can't."
Earlier this year, the governor asked legislators to hold off on making a decision until a working group could examine the issue. That working group's final report is expected Friday.