The following is a letter Ken and I wrote to North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory concerning uranium mining in Virginia. We mention the position on uranium mining by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources that “a release of radioactive tailings could have devastating adverse socioeconomic impacts on the communities of northeastern North Carolina,” including to public water supplies, industrial facilities, agricultural operations, and recreation and tourism.
We describe how “best practices management” regulations authorize “radiological exposures to workers and the environment as low as reasonably achievable [ALARA],” (discussed in Section G of the Uranium Working Group’s Final Report. Thus, contamination is an inevitability that would be legalized by ALARA regulations.
Since uranium mining poses a threat to North Carolina, we request from Governor McCrory that he expedite public meetings in northeastern North Carolina so that North Carolinians can be informed and be given the opportunity for meaningful public participation in the uranium mining decision.
Finally, we request from the Governor that he and the Attorney General find the legal means to protect North Carolina from the potential “devastating adverse” effects from uranium mining.
January 11, 2013
Dear Governor McCrory:
An NC Environmental Review Commission’s online draft letter (December 13, 2012) to Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell stated the Commission’s opposition to the possible mining of uranium in Virginia, including the following information:
The Commission learned that the modeled impacts of a catastrophic breach of an above ground uranium tailings impoundment on downstream water quality in Kerr Lake and Lake Gaston could result in radiation above the United States Environmental Protection Agency Maximum Contaminant Levels for up to three months during wet years and up to sixteen months during dry years. The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources stated that a release of radioactive tailings could have devastating adverse socioeconomic impacts on the communities of northeastern North Carolina including:
- Impacts to the public water supply of more than 118,000 North Carolinians
- Impacts to numerous industrial facilities
- Impacts on over 60 agricultural operations in Bertie, Granville, Halifax, Vance, and Warren counties
- Impacts on recreation and tourism at Kerr Lake and Lake Gaston with possible economic losses of more than $15 million per year
The above “devastating adverse” impacts could also occur gradually but inevitably without a “catastrophic breach” of an impoundment because suggested best practices regulations authorize “radiological exposures to workers and the environment as low as reasonably achievable [ALARA],” discussed in Section G of the Uranium Working Group’s Final Report.
Authorizing radiological exposures as low as reasonably achievable is an explicit acknowledgement that best practices engineering designs for containment structures cannot meet the “zero percent discharge standard” (preventing waste from leaving containment facilities). Given the inescapable empirical reality that best practices continue to fail, there is no reason to believe that the ALARA standard would not facilitate a release of radioactive contamination into air and waterways that would have devastating impacts on northeastern North Carolina.
While best practices regulations would authorize radiological exposures, the proposed bill to lift the ban on uranium mining in Virginia precludes “storms and ‘acts of God’ as a legal liability defense,” according to the bill’s sponsor, John Watkins. (“UPDATE: Lawmakers outline uranium legislation as supporters visit Capitol Square, WDBJ7 News, January 10, 2013.)
In light of the unreasonable risks that uranium mining poses to North Carolina’s environment, health, and natural resources, we are respectfully requesting that public meetings be held in northeastern North Carolina as soon as possible and before the Virginia legislature makes a final decision so that North Carolinians can be fully and fairly informed on both sides of the uranium mining issue. Public participation in an unfettered, transparent process is necessary so that citizens in North Carolina are given the opportunity to express their public sentiment concerning mining uranium in Virginia.
North Carolina must not give up its sovereignty by allowing Virginia to determine a radioactive fate for North Carolinians that would last in perpetuity. As Governor of North Carolina, you are charged with protecting the welfare of the state, so it is incumbent on you, along with the Attorney General, to find the legal means to protect North Carolina from the threat that Virginia uranium mining, milling, and waste disposal pose, starting with an injunction that would stop all decisions concerning uranium mining until North Carolina legislators and North Carolinians weigh in on the issue.
Thank you, Governor McCrory, for considering this request for uranium mining public meetings in northeastern North Carolina and for exploring North Carolina’s legal options to protect our state.
Deborah and Ken Ferruccio
Citizens of Warren County, North Carolina
NC Environmental Review Commission’s draft letter to Governor Bob McDonnell, (December 13, 2012)
Memo: “Why Best Practices” Do Not Justify Lifting the Ban on Uranium Mining and Milling: A Response to The Washington Post (January 5, 2013).
cc: Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell
Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, Bill Bolling
North Carolina Environmental Review Commission