CHATHAM, Va. — The federal government has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a lawsuit over Virginia’s ban on uranium mining.
Attorneys for the Department of Justice and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission filed a brief with the high court earlier this month supporting a Virginia company’s bid to have its challenge to the ban heard.
A decision upholding the ban last year from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was incorrect, the brief said, and the lawsuit’s central question is an important one that’s likely to recur in other nuclear-safety contexts.
Pittsylvania County-based Virginia Uranium Inc. wants to mine a huge deposit of the radioactive ore. The company has argued that the federal Atomic Energy Act pre-empts state regulations, which prohibit the mining.
Opponents have argued that the mining and the storage of radioactive waste would threaten rivers and streams that feed public water supplies. Full-scale uranium mining has never been conducted on the East Coast, and most of it is done in arid parts of the world.
The company, however, contends the ore can be safely mined and that the operation would bring in revenue and new jobs for the struggling Southside region. It has estimated the value of the Coles Hill deposit at $6 billion.
Virginia’s ban on uranium mining has been in place since 1982. The company has lobbied lawmakers to lift the ban over the years but suspended its efforts after the election of former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who made it clear he supported the moratorium.