Yesterday I attended the Keep the Virginia Uranium Ban meeting at the Arlington Public Library. Though this is a complex issue with a lot of nuance, it is clear that the only appropriate response that protects public health is to keep the ban.
Uranium mining in the United States does not have a good record to begin with, and the proposed site of the first Uranium mine in Virginia poses spectacular risks. In the western United States, Uranium mining has had the advantage of a relatively arid climate. The risk of Uranium and other toxic and radioactive materials entering the drinking water has been relatively low.
That is not the case in Virginia. The proposed site in Virginia lies in a FEMA designated flood plain. The company has also not yet provided their plan on how to deal with the 28 million tons of Uranium waste that would remain in Virginia. The risk of contamination (especially in the groundwater) is too great.
Additionally, while there is only one site currently proposed, Virginia Uranium, Inc. has made clear to their investors that this is to be the first of several sites in Virginia. We do have some insight into where these sites may be located as the Keep the Ban coalition has been digging through land leases made in the 1980s before the ban. These leases are upstream of some of Virginia's largest population centers including Virginia Beach and Fairfax County.
Fundamentally, there is no scenario in which it makes sense for Virginia to lift the ban on Uranium mining. In these discussions we must keep in mind the health and safety of our communities, now and for future generations. The EPA has said that the waste products of Uranium mining must be kept away from people for at least 1,000 years. It would be incredibly short-sighted to create a carcinogenic toxic legacy that will last into the next millennia.
We need to be doing more to secure a clean energy future for Virginia. We must work together to increase the renewable portfolio standard to 20% by 2025 - and make it mandatory. We must restrict the construction of new coal-fired power plants and instead provide incentives for clean, renewable alternatives such as offshore wind. Virginia should expand the existing incentive grant available to solar photovoltaic manufacturers to cover manufacturing of other low and no-carbon energy sources. Virginia can be a leader in green industry, but we must get started now.
For more information on how to get involved on this important issue, visit http://www.KeepTheBan.org.
Alfonso Lopez is a candidate for Virginia House of Delegates in the 49th District. With nearly 20 years of legislative experience at the highest levels in federal and state government and a record of achievement in our community, Lopez has dedicated his life to public service and Virginia.