It's the milling that worries Merricks, and it's a tough call as he ticks off the jobs and industries that have withered through the years. He's quick to add, however, that he's heard from people who have decided against locating in his district because of the fear of uranium mining.
For him, it comes down to this: "How do you define safe?"
"I know you cannot 100 percent guarantee anything to be safe, but I think you need to have some reasonable assurances that the process is not going to contaminate the environment," he said. "Personally, I made the decision that I don't think it's worth the risk for the milling."
The story of uranium in Virginia parallels the nation's uneasy history with nuclear power.
The uranium deposit in Pittsylvania County was first detected in the 1950s but interest in mining it didn't develop until nuclear power emerged as a source of clean energy in the 1970s. The accident at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island, then the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine, changed that. As uranium prices plummeted, interest in tapping the Southside Virginia deposit waned and the Legislature enacted a moratorium on mining the ore in the 1980s. It remains in place to this day.
The uranium is located in two locations on Coles Hill, a 3,500-acre property in Pittsylvania County, about 20 miles from the North Carolina border. Coles Hill derives its name from the family whose ties to this land dates back more than two centuries and six generations. Its members are now famously known for the company they captain, Virginia Uranium.