Momentum is growing in the radioactive debate over whether to open a uranium mine in Pittsylvania County. Advocates see a wealth of opportunity; opponents see safety and environmental concerns.

CHATHAM, Va. — Walter Coles does not believe that anyone in Pittsylvania County really hates him.

But controversy surrounds Coles and his business partners who hope to someday mine uranium ore beneath farm land ringing the Coles family’s circa-1814 manor house about six miles northeast of Chatham.

At today’s prices, the extensive deposits could be worth billions of dollars, according to Virginia Uranium Inc., the Chatham-based company of which Coles is chairman.

Although uranium prices can be volatile, the ore could be worth even more seven or eight years from now, probably the earliest the deposit could possibly be mined.

For now, Virginia Uranium wants the Virginia General Assembly and Gov. Tim Kaine to allow an objective, independent study to examine whether mining and milling of radioactive uranium can be accomplished safely in Pittsylvania County.

The company says it will pay for the study, no strings attached.

What happens if research determines the mining project should not proceed on land owned by the Coleses and another family?

“It’s dead,” Coles said. “We’ve said that time and again.”

Virginia Uranium has fans and foes. One petition circulating around Chatham reads, “Heck no! We won’t glow!”

Regional opponents say that even stringently regulated uranium mining is hazardous to human health and the environment.

In December, a regional newspaper reported that Coles had become, in some quarters of this town of 1,300 residents, “a hated man” because of his company’s push for uranium mining.

“That’s just not true, as far as I know,” he said.

About local opponents, Coles said, “I admire them, and like to be around them, and I don’t think they hate me. Many of their concerns I share.”

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