Research & Commentary: Uranium Mining and Property Rights

Published January 28, 2013

The world’s 14th-largest deposit of known recoverable uranium is in southern Virginia at Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County. It is valued at $7 billion, is economically recoverable, and sits entirely on private property. In 1982 the Virginia General Assembly placed a moratorium on uranium mining until a thorough study could be completed.

The completed study found mining and milling could be done safely and responsibly, but the uranium market had fizzled out by then, private interest had dissipated, and the moratorium remained. Recently, Virginia Uranium, Inc. proposed tapping the deposit, which it cannot do unless the Virginia legislature lifts the outdated moratorium.

With private interest renewed, the state Coal and Energy Commission recently voted 11–2 to lift the moratorium. Lifting the moratorium would be the right move for Virginia, but the current debate should not neglect the discussion of property rights as they relate to the regulation of uranium mining. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Marc Scribner, a more thoughtful conversation would “focus on strengthening property rights so those who want to mine uranium face incentives to do so without harming adjacent property owners.”

Should uranium miners trespass on an adjacent owner’s property in any way, including pollution, that owner already has the right to file suit against the offender, thus halting harmful activity and collecting appropriate damages. By contrast, using an aggressive regulatory regime to impede mining would infringe on those private property owners’ right to benefit from a growing local economy, by inhibiting the economic benefits of uranium mining through the effects of a burdensome regulatory state.

A system of well-defined and well-defended property rights would be a far better method of protecting the environment while growing the economy than one of onerous and overlapping regulations. With the former in place, Virginia can safely pursue lifting the moratorium, enjoy superior wealth creation, and efficiently manage environmental risk while protecting individual rights.

The following documents provide additional information about uranium mining and property rights.


Uranium Mining in Virginia: Environmental and Safety Considerations
Heartland Science Director and groundwater expert Jay Lehr, Ph.D. finds uranium mining in Virginia can take place safely and with minimal environmental impact. 

Ten Principles of Energy Policy
Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast outlines the ten most important principles for policymakers confronting energy issues, providing guidance to help deal with ongoing changes in markets, technology, and policies adopted in other states, supported by a thorough bibliography. 

Research & Commentary: Mining Regulation
Heartland Institute Policy Analyst Taylor Smith examines the contributions of the mining industry and the most effective ways to regulate it. 

Research & Commentary: Uranium Mining
Heartland Institute Policy Analyst Taylor Smith explains the history of U.S. uranium mining and describes measures taken to ensure the benefits outweigh the costs. 

Time to Allow Uranium Mining in Virginia
The Heritage Foundation’s Jack Spencer and Katie Tubb conclude the Virginia General Assembly should lift the moratorium on uranium mining and create a regulatory system that allows citizens to exercise stewardship over their own property. 

Dig It! Rare Earth and Uranium Mining Potential in the States
The American Legislative Exchange Council reports economic development and environmental protection are best fostered by a system of clear and strong property rights; it applies this to the uranium mining issue in Virginia. 

Virginia’s Uranium Mining Moratorium Should Be Buried, But What About Property Rights?
Blogging for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Marc Scribner discusses how property rights can protect the public’s health and the environment while respecting people’s individual liberties. That makes property rights a more effective and desirable option than regulatory regimes.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the Environment & Climate News Web site at, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland Institute Policy Analyst Taylor Smith at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.