Responding to residents' concerns that uranium mining in Pittsylvania County would be an environmental disaster, county leaders are urging a state commission studying the issue to state unequivocally whether mining would cause damage or harm.
County supervisors, in a resolution passed Monday night, said they don't want the commission's study merely to provide an analysis of the costs and benefits of uranium mining.
Opponents of plans to mine uranium in Pittsylvania applauded the supervisors for taking what they called a slightly more skeptical stance on the question of whether the nuclear fuel can be mined safely.
"It's a step in the right direction," said Jack Dunavant, chairman of Southside Concerned Citizens. "It certainly doesn't go far enough, but it puts people on notice that there are problems with this kind of mining."
Virginia has had a moratorium on uranium mining since 1982, but a group of landowners has formed Virginia Uranium Inc. in hopes of mining an estimated 120 million pounds of uranium from two deposits in the Coles Hill area of Pittsylvania. The ore is worth billions of dollars.
The Virginia Commission on Coal and Energy has agreed to study the issue of uranium mining. If the study, which could take two years to complete, finds the mining could be done safely, the General Assembly could lift the moratorium. This would throw open much of the state to uranium exploration.
Geologists say uranium lies beneath much of Virginia's soil east of the Blue Ridge, from Pittsylvania to Bedford and Orange and Fauquier counties.
Walter Coles, chairman of Virginia Uranium, said he has no problem with the supervisors' action. "I think it's a good thing. We've always said from day one we don't want to put any industry in here that would harm people."
In Pittsylvania, the towns of Hurt and Gretna have passed resolutions opposing the lifting of the moratorium unless the commission study can show mining would not contaminate the air or water.
The cities of Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, which get water that flows through Pittsylvania, also oppose lifting the moratorium.