“2-4-6-8! Help us keep our water safe!” students chanted at a rally in front of Lee Hall on Thursday, Oct. 20. Over 100 University of Mary Washington students and members of the Fredericksburg community gathered to support the Keep the Ban Coalition and state Senator Edd Houck, pressuring legislators to renew the ban on uranium mining in Virginia.
“Our health is paramount,” said junior Graham Givens, when asked why the fight to ban uranium mining is important. Givens, student organizer for the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, helped organize the rally Thursday in solidarity with the Keep the Ban movement.
The Keep the Ban Coalition is a group of organizations focused on urging state legislators to renew the moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia. According to the coalition’s website, the original moratorium was enacted in 1982, following the discovery and investigation of significant uranium deposits in southern and central Virginia.
The General Assembly is now under pressure from the uranium industry to lift the moratorium, which would create opportunity for the acquisition of uranium rich land in southern Virginia (Danville/Chatham area), as well as in Orange County, to the west of Fredericksburg.
Houck represents the Virginia State Senate District 17, which includes Fredericksburg and Orange County.
Virginia Uranium, Inc.’s website states that uranium mining will create “Jobs for Virginia and Fuel for America,” Companies interested in mining for uranium hope to create economic opportunity in the area by opening plants that would create local jobs.
Chief Geologist for Virginia Uranium, Inc. Joseph Aylor emphasized that if the moratorium is lifted there are still many steps before mining begins.
The uranium industry must conform to extensive local, state and federal regulations to “make sure that the environment and human health are taken care of,” stated Aylor.
Aylor also said that while he understands the public’s concerns regarding the threat of potential ‘toxic’ waste overflow, “there are design criteria that we have to follow to avoid these things.”
He believes that such regulations include “building the mill above the probable maximum flood and keeping tailings management cells closed off to ground water by building them above the water table.”
According to Aylor, once design concepts have been drawn up and approved by local, state and federal regulations, the public will again have an opportunity to express their concerns.
“This is a statewide issue. If the ban is lifted, millions of Virginians would be at risk of drinking contaminated water. We must keep the ban on uranium mining in Virginia,” said Mary Rafferty, grassroots organizing manager for the Virginia Sierra Club.
Rafferty, along with Houck, spoke out against uranium mining and encouraged students to pressure their lawmakers to recognize this issue.
Houck delivered a succinct message to the crowd Thursday, supporting the ban “because the risk to the waterways, public health and agricultural economy of our communities outweigh any potential benefits.”
The coalition’s website states that if uranium mining were to begin in Virginia, as much as 29 million tons of waste will be created and stored near mining sites. In the event of heavy rains or a natural disaster these storage units may malfunction, allowing the toxic waste to leak into the water table and Rappahannock River watershed, easily affecting Fredericksburg’s water supply.
“It’s simply not worth the risk,” Houck said, reminding the audience of the potential health risks associated with exposure to uranium waste—including lung cancer, bone cancer and hormone disruption.
Givens encouraged students to use their voice and join the coalition in fighting to keep the ban, saying that “as a native Virginian and student at University of Mary Washington, I am not willing to sit still.”
Senior Ashley Border attended the rally in support of the Keep the Ban campaign and Houck. She said that, as students, “our voice is affective,” and believes that the students of UMW are very active in campaigns such as this.
Ed Sandtner, Fredericksburg resident and member of the Sierra Club since 1969, supports the ban because he believes that the cost of cleaning up an environmental disaster will grossly outweigh any economic gain that may come from mining.
Photo by Marie Sicola