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US judge dismisses lawsuit challenging uranium mining ban

December 2, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging Virginia’s 33-year ban on uranium mining Wednesday, delivering a legal blow to a company that already failed to achieve its goal politically.

U.S. District Judge Jackson L. Kiser rejected Virginia Uranium Inc.’s claim that the state ban is pre-empted by the federal Atomic Energy Act, which was enacted in 1946 primarily to promote nuclear power. Virginia’s law “does not, in any meaningful way, obstruct the realization of Congress’s purposes and objectives behind the AEA,” Kiser wrote in a 21-page opinion.

He also ruled that Gov. Terry McAuliffe and other state officials named as defendants are immune from being sued because they are “insufficiently connected” to the moratorium’s implementation.

State Attorney General Mark R. Herring said in a written statement: “The legislature has decided that the safety concerns about uranium mining warrant a moratorium, and I’m glad we were able to successfully defend the commonwealth’s environment and its ban in this suit, and we will continue to defend both against challenges.”

Virginia Uranium could appeal the ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but a company lawyer said no decision has been made.

“We’ve received the opinion and we’re closely studying and reviewing it,” attorney Michael W. Kirk said in a telephone interview. He declined further comment.

Virginia Uranium last week filed a second lawsuit in West County Circuit Court, arguing that the ban violates the Virginia Constitution.

The Chatham company abandoned its campaign to persuade state officials to lift the state’s uranium mining moratorium after the incoming Democratic governor made it clear he would not support lifting the ban. The General Assembly had previously refused to lift the ban, despite heavy lobbying by the company.

Virginia Uranium is seeking to mine a 119-million-pound deposit of uranium in Pittsylvania County — one of the largest deposits in the world — near the North Carolina border. The company has estimated the market value of the so-called Coles Hill deposit at $6 billion.

Opponents of the company’s plan said mining and the storage of radioactive waste would threaten nearby rivers and streams that feed public water supplies.

Virginia Uranium contends that the ore can be safely mined.

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