But environmental issues are the sticking point.
The prospect of uranium mining in Virginia has spawned an avalanche of studies, none of which are definitive. A yearlong analysis by a National Academy of Sciences panel is considered the gold standard among all the others, and supporters and critics of mining draw generously from its final report to argue their competing points.
Yes, it concludes, mining and milling in the West in the past has resulted in arsenic and uranium in local water supplies, but modern mining practices have the potential to reduce those risks.
Modern containment cells are designed to keep the waste out of water, but monitoring of existing waste sites to assess long-term impacts has not been done over the generations that would be required in Virginia, the authors state.Supporters of mining say popular images of nuclear power and the crises at Chernobyl and most recently Fukushima in Japan have created a climate of fear involving anything radioactive, including uranium. "It's that enduring image of the mushroom cloud," said Andrea Jennetta, who publishes Fuel Cycle Weekly, which is aimed at uranium producers, buyers and government agencies. "People seem to be unable to separate that from any sort of peaceful or positive use." Still others say to reject mining is contrary to the American can-do spirit. Lillian Gillespie, the former mayor of Pittsylvania County's largest town, Hurt, is of that school. She left her native state of West Virginia to pursue a higher paying job with a furniture manufacturer. "We've sent men to the moon and brought them back," she said. "I just believe we as a nation, as a state and a county can do something like this." Wales, the public face of Virginia Uranium and project manager for the company, is a native of nearby Danville and describes the issue as "personal and moral." The Coles family, he notes, would continue to live on the property if mining was allowed.