Northampton opposes uranium mining

Published 9:47 am Tuesday, September 11, 2012

JACKSON – The Northampton County Board of Commissioners has officially opposed lifting the ban on uranium mining.

Last week the board approved a resolution opposing the action, which would benefit a proposed mining facility nearly 200 miles away one that has the potential to affect the natural resources used by Northampton County citizens.

According to information provided by Northampton County Health Director Sue Gay, there is a proposed uranium mining and milling operation in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, which would require lifting the current ban on uranium mining.

Virginia Uranium, Inc., a private company, is lobbying to remove the current restrictions.

Uranium ore is excavated deep underground and then milled into small sand clay-like particles. Uranium is leached from the ore and recovered as uranium oxide; the left over ore sediments are known as uranium mill tailings. Unlike buried ore, tailings are susceptible to transport by air and water and retain 85 percent of its original radioactivity for more than 300,000 years.

In 2011, the city of Virginia Beach released the findings of an extensive study concluding that in the event of a mill tailings confinement cell failure, the tailings would be washed downstream and impact water quality in Kerr Reservoir and Lake Gaston, resulting in radiation levels in the water supply 10 to 20 times above the levels set by the Safe Water Drinking Act.

“Northampton County is currently using the Roanoke River and its tributaries as a source of drinking water,” Gay said.

Virginia Beach also uses Lake Gaston as its source for public drinking water.

The Northampton County Board of Health adopted the resolution opposing the lift of the ban Aug. 9 and strongly urged the commissioners to do the same.

“There is scientific information that says this could prove hazardous to the health of our people in that many of our resources that we use as a result of the Roanoke River,” Gay said. “And it would affect not only the Roanoke River, because we’re downstream Lake Gaston as well.”

Commissioner Fannie Greene said she has been kept informed about the issue through the Lake Gaston Association.

“They’ve done a lot of research on it and I know we talk about it each year at the Five County Forum and it’s been a real issue of concern,” she said.

Greene moved to approve the 2012 resolution to oppose lifting the ban on uranium mining. Commissioner Chester Deloatch offered a second and the measure carried without objection.