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The next governor is likely to be under pressure to end a moratorium on mining the radioactive ore.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Foes of uranium mining in Virginia say they’ve met with Democrat Terry McAuliffe, the party’s presumed gubernatorial candidate, who has assured them he opposes it — though his campaign says his position hasn’t changed.
In the past, he has said he would “need to be certain” it could “be done safely and cleaned up completely” before a state moratorium could be lifted, and “So far I have not seen that.”
Opponents of lifting a 31-year moratorium are wise to try to nail down McAuliffe and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee, on the issue. The ban puts a rich uranium deposit in Pittsylvania County off-limits for development, and pressure to end it will continue as long as the stakes are high.
The General Assembly refused this year. But whoever is elected governor in November could improve Virginia Uranium Inc.’s prospects for ending the moratorium, and tapping into one of the largest known uranium ore deposits in the world — valued as high as $7 billion.
In February, just days after withdrawing a uranium mining bill in the state Senate for lack of support, Sen. John Watkins said he would ask Gov. Bob McDonnell to direct state agencies to draft regulations anyway, so that skeptics might be assured it can be done safely in Virginia. McDonnell has not said whether or not he will do so before his term ends.
He should not. And if he does not, the pressure likely will fall on his successor, whomever he may be.
The executive director of the Roanoke River Basin Association said mining opponents met with McAuliffe several weeks ago in Danville. They told The Associated Press they have yet to arrange a meeting with Cuccinelli, who in the past has indicated that developing regulations would be an appropriate step.
In March, his office issued a statement saying, “This would clarify what would be involved and would eliminate any uncertainty prior to the General Assembly’s decision.”
Hardly. A 2011 National Academy of Sciences study was not reassuring when it noted that Virginia would have to overcome “steep hurdles” before allowing uranium mining and milling in a wet climate and in an area near enough to the East Cost to be affected by hurricanes and tropical storms.
Proponents argue that, with industry advances, these things can be done safely with the proper regulatory controls. Write the regulations, they urge, and assuage critics’ fears.
The state’s anti-regulatory history offers scant comfort.
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