This chapter presents a summary of the overarching physical and social context in which any uranium mining and processing in Virginia would occur. The general geography and geology are discussed first, followed by information on mining in the state. Next, the climate, ecology, and the surface and groundwater characteristics of Virginia’s different regions are introduced. Finally, the broad social context is presented, with particular emphasis on areas that might be mined for uranium.
The Commonwealth of Virginia spans 755 km (469 miles) west to east and 323 km (201 miles) north to south, encompassing a total area of 110,785 square km (42,774 square miles) (Fleming et al., 2011). It is divided into five physiographic zones (Figure 2.1)—the Appalachian Plateau, Valley and Ridge, Blue Ridge Mountains, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain. This physiographic zonation closely follows the overall geology, shown in Figure 2.2. While uranium-bearing rocks occur throughout Virginia, the Piedmont contains most of the identified possible resources for uranium mining. These occurrences are discussed in more detail in Chapter 3.
The Appalachian Plateau is the westernmost geographic region in Virginia, occurring only in a small area in the southwest. This province, part of the northern Cumberland Mountains, has rough topography with average elevations between 305 and 914 m (1,000-3,000 ft) (Bailey, 1999a). The region is underlain by flat to gently sloping Mississippian to Pennsylvanian (299-359 million years old [My])
FIGURE 2.1 The five physiographic regions of Virginia. SOURCE: Modified from Bailey (1999a).