Sunday, March 15, 2009

Opponents of Uranium Mine Find Allies at the Beach

Deborah and Phillip Lovelace felt like they were going up against an army as they organized opposition to a proposed uranium mine five miles from their cattle farm near Gretna, a Southside town of 1,300.

Then the Virginia Beach City Council passed a resolution opposing the mine without guarantees that the operation wouldn't contaminate Lake Gaston, its primary drinking water supply.

Suddenly, the Lovelaces had their own army: a city of 425,000 people. "I could have almost turned cartwheels," Phillip said.

"People now realize, 'Hey, maybe it's not just little Gretna, Va.,' " Deborah added. "It's going to affect a lot more people."

The Lovelaces are among 10 Gretna residents traveling to Hampton Roads Wednesday for a 7:30 p.m. meeting at Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Princess Anne Road. Officials from the Beach and Norfolk have been invited, and the event is open to the public.

The Lovelaces say they hope to get moral support and meet people with environmental expertise to aid their cause.

While the event is likely to attract mostly passionate opponents of mining, it's being organized by the Virginia Interfaith Center and Tidewater Sowers of Justice, two faith-based groups that aren't exactly in the rabble-rousing business.

The professorial Del. Joe Bouchard will lead the discussion, and he admits his audience may not like everything he says. The Democrat supports a controversial state study on the impact of uranium mining in Virginia as long as it's done by the respected National Academy of Sciences and is not influenced by mining companies.

"If you do it right, it's going to shed light on what the dangers really are," he said.

While a county zoning board might be swayed by crowds of angry people, state regulatory boards will base their decisions on scientific analysis, Bouchard said.

A former Montanan, Bouchard is familiar with the health and environmental destruction uranium mining can cause. New technologies have been developed to minimize mining impacts in arid climates, but he's unsure whether they will work in Virginia with its heavy rains and interconnected groundwater systems.

Bouchard hopes the meeting will help constituents and city leaders start thinking strategically about energy issues. Virginia Beach finds itself on the front lines of the debates. Many of the options could benefit the city, but they also carry risks.

A proposed coal-fired power plant in Surry County would release greenhouses gases and add pollutants to the Chesapeake Bay. Offshore drilling and wind farms raise questions about impacts on the environment and military operations. Nuclear energy is the quickest way to reduce greenhouses gases, but it requires uranium for fuel.

"If Virginia Beach degenerates into a situation where they just say no to everything, people will stop listening to them," Bouchard said. "There's a rational way to approach this and, that's what I'll be advocating."

Christina Nuckols is an editorial writer for The Virginian-Pilot. E-mail her at

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