I have an article in today’s National Memo on the politics of uranium mining in this year’s race for the governorship of Virginia: Radioactive?: “Uranium Mining Ban May Become Hot Issue In Virginia’s Election.” There’s a huge uranium deposit in southern Virginia. But in 1982, the Virginia Assembly passed a moratorium on uranium mining in the state. Mining proponents have been trying to end the moratorium for several years, opposed by what several lobbyists told me was the broadest coalition in decades.
One of the most interesting people I interviewed was former dairy farmer Bill Speiden, who got involved more than 3 decades ago when a uranium mining firm offered him a mining lease on his Orange County farm. Speiden, who has since quit the dairy business and sold his farm, is still fighting to keep the moratorium in place.
Before he signed a lease for his farm, which had tested as the most radioactive spot in the state, Speiden took a trip out west to see exactly what uranium mining looked like.
“I was looking forward to the royalties,” Speiden told me. “It looked like it would beat the hell out of milking cows. I went into this positively.”
But what Speiden saw appalled him: “What we found out was the agriculturally and economically, uranium mining was very often disasterous.”
Speiden and his late wife came back, developed a slide show that supporters of a moratorium showed more than 100 times, and put together a winning coalition of environmentalists, business people, and the United Mine Workers. Thirty-one years later, Speiden is out of the dairy business, but continues to work to keep the state moratorium in place. In his view, there’s ample history demonstrating that there is no such thing as “safe” uranium mining.
For more info on uranium mining in Virginia, check out the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Piedmont Environment Council, two of the leading environmental groups. For the broad coalition defending the moratorium, try Keep the Ban.