Enviros Challenge Transparency of Virginia Uranium Mining Deliberations

June 13, 2012

Citizen environmental groups in Virginia are charging that the state is secretly meeting with industry to set rules for ending the state's three-decade ban on uranium mining.

Virginia's legislature set the ban after a major deposit of uranium — estimated to be the world's seventh largest — was found in Pittsylvania County, near the state's southern border. Now a company called Virginia Uranium wants to mine it, and are lobbying state officials to lift the ban — an action that must be taken by the legislature. The legislature is not expected to take the matter up until 2013.

Opposing repeal of the ban are several environmental groups: the Piedmont Environmental Council, the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club's Virginia chapter.

The state formed a multi-agency panel (the Uranium Working Group) to study the issue, and that panel hired a consulting firm that critics say was stacked with experts affiliated with the nuclear industry. The groups criticized the panel's openness.

“This action . . . has the unfortunate effect of taking the process away from the commonwealth’s elected representatives and placing it behind closed doors,” the groups wrote. “In particular, we are troubled by the possibility of little public involvement in this critical process.”

A meeting on March 7, 2012, where press could attend but not ask questions did not defuse the criticism. Nor did a meeting on April 4 — nor a series of meetings presenting a report by National Academy of Sciences panel, which found problems with the uranium mining. Another meeting will be held in Chatham, Va., June, 18 2012.