Supreme Court to consider Virginia uranium ban

22 May 2018

The US Supreme Court is to consider whether federal law pre-empts Virginia's ban on uranium mining after finding in favour of a petition by Virginia Uranium, IncĀ against an earlier appeal court ruling. The court is expected to consider the question later this year.

The latest round of court cases has centred on the contention by Virginia Uranium that the ban is based on concerns about radiation from the uranium milling process and from tailings arising from it. The company argues that the US Atomic Energy Act gives the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission exclusive power to regulate uranium milling and tailings-management activities, and that Virginia's moratorium is therefore pre-empted by the federal legislation. The Atomic Energy Act does not cover conventional uranium mining on privately owned land.

The US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in April 2017 rejected the company's argument, ruling that Virginia's ban on mining was not pre-empted. Virginia Uranium asked the Supreme Court to review whether the Atomic Energy Act pre-empts a state law, and the federal government last month filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up the case.

The Supreme Court yesterday issued a writ of certiorari for the case, agreeing to consider the question of whether the Atomic Energy act pre-empts a state law "that on its face regulates an activity within its jurisdiction (here uranium mining), but has the purpose and effect of regulating the radiological safety hazards of activities entrusted to the NRC (here, the milling of uranium and the management of the resulting tailings)". The case is likely to be heard in the autumn.

The Coles Hill uranium deposit in Pittsylvania County was first discovered in 1978 and 2008 NI 43-101 figures showed it to contain measured resources of 3260 tU and indicated resources of 42,800 tU. Its owner, Virginia Energy Inc, describes it as the largest undeveloped uranium deposit in the USA. Virginia Energy's ownership in Coles Hill is held through its subsidiary, Virginia Uranium.

Virginia is home to four operating reactors at two nuclear power plants, numerous nuclear companies and government nuclear-related facilities, but has had a moratorium on uranium mining since 1982. Virginia Uranium, headed by the Coles family in whose ancestral land the deposit lies, has been lobbying for permission to mine the deposit since 2007.

Uranium appears on a list of 35 minerals considered as critical to US economic and national security published by the Department of the Interior. The list is to be the initial focus of a multi-agency strategy that is being drawn up by the Department of Commerce in response to an executive order by President Donald Trump to "break" the country's dependence on foreign minerals. The strategy, which is due to be filed in August, will include among other things recommendations to streamline lease permitting and review processes, and ways to increase discovery, production, and domestic refining of critical minerals.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News