Virginia nixes uranium mine – now for SD!

A longtime struggle to halt the exploitation of Virginia’s environment won a significant victory today, one that should give heart to South Dakotans waging their own anti-uranium campaigns:

With his legislation to advance uranium mining in Virginia seemingly shelved for the year, Sen. John Watkins searched for a way forward Thursday, urging Gov. Bob McDonnell to plow ahead on the development of mining regulations…

The Powhatan County Republican’s bill (SB1353) would have begun the process of developing a state regulatory framework to tap a rich deposit of the radioactive ore in Pittsylvania County and run a mining operation there.

VA uranium protester

Uranium opponents in VA won a significant victory today

His proposal was the embodiment of a multiyear effort by Virginia Uranium Inc., which controls land with an estimated 119-million-pound deposit of ore, and its lobbyists to convince legislators that the resource used as fuel in nuclear power plants can be safely harvested…

Virginia Uranium officials have long insisted that they will dispose of tailings, created when ore is separated from rock, in below-grade containment units to prevent their escape.

And they offer the appeal of hundreds of jobs, as well as tax revenue, for an area of the state hard hit by unemployment.

But the people of Virginia aren’t convinced. (Would that South Dakotans – including some of our national-level politicians – weren’t so swayed by the siren song of “economic development”…) And just so you know, the campaign against Virginia Uranium isn’t simply anti-growth, anti-business rabble-rousing by a bunch of tree-hugging environmentalists. It’s brought landowners, agriculturalists, local businesspeople, and yes, environmentalists alike to the table:

Opponents fear a breach of containment cells holding the waste would contaminate public drinking water supplies for localities as far away as Virginia Beach, nearly 200 miles from the proposed mine. The tourist city, Virginia’s largest, had taken a public stand against mining.

Environmentalists were joined in their opposition by local grass-root organizers, Virginia’s largest farm lobby, the state’s medical society, municipal and church groups, the NAACP and others…

Uranium mining has been done almost exclusively in the arid West and critics said Virginia’s exposure to tropical storms and torrential rains made it a bad choice to mine the ore.

They have said they’re primarily concerned about the milling — the separation of ore from rock. It creates vast amounts of waste that must be stored for generations.

That’s a pretty broad coalition. And it’s precisely a strong coalition like this that allows a movement for change to succeed. For as renowned political scientist and civil resistance theorist Erica Chenoweth points out, the single most important factor to a movement’s success is participation, folding as many people from as many different walks of life into the struggle. That’s one thing South Dakota’s own struggle against Powertech Uranium has going for it – quite apart from usual suspects like the SDPJC and Defenders of the Black Hills, it has broad-based support among the residents of Fall River and Custer Counties, where the proposed Dewey-Burdock Project would operate, many of them far from career activists themselves.

Virginia uranium protest

Will SD follow in Virginia’s footsteps?

Virginia Uranium officials are circumspect in the wake of this blow to their business plans:

“We have gone to great lengths over the last several years to educate elected leaders and the public they serve about the strict regulations, science and technology used in modern uranium mining,” said Virginia Uranium project manager Patrick Wales. “Our efforts to address the concerns with facts and science have been sincere.”

The same sort of sincerity will be on display next Thursday in Hot Springs, as the sirens of economic development take to the stage in Hill City to sing the praises of uranium mining, in an “informational meeting” at 6:30 pm at the Mueller Center Theater, 801 S. Sixth Ave. The nature of the event, which will feature state and Powertech officials at the mic and no chance for the public to get them to actually address their concerns (there will be no Q&A afterward), is far more informative than the contents of the meeting could ever be.

That’s right: even as the people of Virgina put the kibosh on dangerous uranium mining, Powertech is working hard to prevent the same thing from happening in South Dakota. If you can make it to the Mueller Center next Thursday night, please attend this meeting, and be sure to wear your best yellow “No Uranium Mining” ribbons and t-shirts for the occasion. (You can pick up ribbons, signs, and other supplies at the Kip and Ginger Heinzen residence, 309 S. 6th St, before the meeting – contact us at for more info.) We may not be able to ask questions. But there are other ways to let Powertech and their boosters know that we’ve got the participation to win this thing.


About sdpeacejustice

The SD Peace & Justice Center connects a grassroots network of South Dakotans working for social justice and against violence and oppression.
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