The largest-known U.S. uranium deposit will remain firmly under ground after the Supreme Court on Monday upheld Virginia’s moratorium on mining the radioactive metal, rebuffing a challenge backed by the Trump administration to the ban.
In a 6-3 decision, the justices affirmed a lower court’s ruling that threw out a lawsuit brought by Virginia Uranium Inc and other owners of the massive deposit valued at billions of dollars on private land in southern Virginia. The company contested the state’s authority to enact the ban enacted in 1982, saying the state policy should have been preempted by federal law.
Virginia first banned uranium mining in 1982 following the Three Mile Island nuclear power station partial meltdown near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, three years earlier.
Virginia Uranium is a subsidiary of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Virginia Energy Resources.
The site contains an estimated 119 million pounds of uranium. Once valued at US$6 billion, the deposit could displace the imports that now constitute 90 per cent of the uranium used by the nation’s nuclear power plants.
The dispute focused on whether the federal Atomic Energy Act of 1954, which regulates the development of nuclear energy, preempts Virginia’s mining ban under the U.S. Constitution’s so-called Supremacy Clause, which holds that federal law generally trumps state law. President Donald Trump’s administration had backed the company’s challenge to Virginia’s law.
The case thrust Virginia into the center of a national debate over uranium mining. It pitted the rights of states – specifically to control their natural resources and protect the environment – against federal law and the need to maintain access to raw materials critical for nuclear weapons and power plants.
The ruling could entice other states to restrict the availability of source materials or create financial barriers to nuclear energy development, potentially reducing uranium production.