RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Two groups representing hundreds of Virginia cities, counties and towns are recommending that the General Assembly keep a 30-year ban on uranium mining in place.
The Virginia Municipal League cites concerns about health and environmental issues related uranium mining, milling and disposal of radioactive-laced rock, while the Virginia Association of Counties wants the ban to stick "pending further study."
The league represents all 39 cities, 157 towns and 10 counties, while the association represents the state's 95 counties.
"I think it's fair to say it's a risk that our members are not willing to live with," Joe Lerch, director of environmental policy, said Thursday of uranium mining. He said the position was unanimously endorsed by its members.
A spokesman for the association was not immediately available Thursday.
Virginia has had a moratorium on uranium mining since 1982 but a mining company is lobbying to have the General Assembly lift the ban so it can mine a 119-million-pound deposit in Pittsylvania County along the North Carolina line. Virginia Uranium Inc., based in Chatham, has said uranium mining and milling — the separation of rock from the ore — can be conducted safely. It also has pledged to use below-ground containment units to minimize the risk of waste being scattered by a violent storm.
Opponents contend Virginia's wet, hurricane-susceptible climate is poorly suited for a mining industry that typically has been centered in the dryer West.
In outlying its opposition, the Municipal League sides with the fears expressed by opponents.
"Uranium mining, milling and waste disposal of generated wastes poses health and environmental problems for Virginians," the league states in its policy position. It also expresses concerns that "radiation and other pollutants from mill tailings" would contaminate water supplies and about the health and safety of mine workers.
Lerch said Municipal League members are concerned not only with the prospect of contamination, but also the stigma uranium mining and its economic impacts. He said that fear is particularly felt in Hampton Roads, where Virginia Beach and other localities draw water from Southside Virginia, but also localities near the uranium deposit.
"Would people be willing to go to Virginia Beach for the holiday if they thought there's something wrong with the water there?" he asked. In Southside, he said, "Would this hurt their real estate interests in that area? Would a company want to locate there?"
A National Academy of Sciences study issued last December concluded Virginia faced "steep hurdles" to regulate uranium mining to ensure the protection of the environment and public health. Gov. Bob McDonnell asked the 2012 General Assembly to delay any action on lifting the ban so he could have a multi-agency state panel review the NAS report and various other aspects of uranium mining, including an examination of what regulatory controls the state would need to oversee a uranium mining industry.
The Uranium Working Group is expected to deliver its report in December. It will not include a recommendation on whether the ban should be lifted.
Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sszkotakap .