Virginia Media's Distorted Push For Dangerous Uranium Mining

Two Virginia media outlets are pushing gubernatorial candidates to lift a ban on uranium mining in Virginia while ignoring the state's particular vulnerability to environmental and health risks from mining.

In a March 21 editorial, The Richmond Times-Dispatch advocated for uranium mining, highlighting a study by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission which found that a radium and uranium refinery had no health or environmental effects on people in the surrounding area.

But the facility at the study's focus does not actually mine uranium at their site, it refines it. And in locations where they do mine, there are environmental differences between Canada and the United States. Cale Jaffe, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said Canadian mines are located in areas with different climates and are more isolated from population centers. Indeed, a comprehensive report by the National Academy of Sciences found that storms and erosion from rainfall could pose a risk to uranium mines:

Virginia is subject to relatively frequent storms that produce intense rainfall. It is questionable whether currently-engineered tailings repositories could be expected to prevent erosion and surface and groundwater contamination for as long as 1,000 years. Natural events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, intense rainfall, or drought could lead to the release of contaminants if facilities are not designed and constructed to withstand such events, or if they fail to perform as designed.

A study by the city of Virginia Beach found that a “catastrophic failure” -- due to a natural event for example -- of a uranium containment structure could lead to radioactive substances contaminating drinking water for an extended period of time.

Canadian mines have also faced significant environmental problems in the past, according to a Southern Environmental Law Center report.  On three occasions Canadian mines have flooded or contaminated waste water has leaked from these projects.

Virginia Watchdog, the Virginia affiliate of the Franklin Center For Government and Public Integrity -- a right-wing group which provides free statehouse reporting to local newspapers but receives large amounts of money from anonymous conservative donors -- similarly ignored the risks posed by Virginia's climate, instead quoting a Washington Times editorial in favor of uranium mining and the company who wants to mine the area.

UPDATE: This post has been edited for clarity.