CHATHAM, Va. (AP) — Virginia lawmakers who will play a critical role in whether Virginia ends a 30-year ban on uranium mining are meeting Tuesday within miles of a deposit of the radioactive ore that has fueled the intense debate.
The Coal and Energy Commission is traveling to Chatham to receive the Uranium Working Group's report. On Nov. 30, the multi-agency group submitted to Gov. Bob McDonnell its assessment on a range of issues — regulatory to environmental — that Virginia will need to address if the state allows uranium mining. The report did not include a recommendation on whether the ban should be lifted.
In a release on the Chatham meeting, the commission said it will not take any action on the report Tuesday and a future meeting will be held in Richmond prior to the start of the 2013 General Assembly, presumably to issue a recommendation on uranium mining.
Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan and a member of the commission, has already requested development of legislation to end the 1982 moratorium and a regulatory framework to oversee uranium mining.
Virginia Uranium Inc. is lobbying for an end to the moratorium so it can mine a 119-milllion pound deposit of the ore in Pittsylvania County. It is the largest known uranium deposit in the U.S. and among the largest in the world.
The proposed mining, however, has stirred opposition among those who fear mining and the milling of the ore for use as fuel in nuclear power plants pose a threat to public water supplies and local residents. Opponents argue that Virginia is susceptible to torrential rains and destructive storms that could scatter tailings, or waste from the separation of the ore from rock.
Virginia Uranium says the mining and processing can be conducted safely using the most stringent industry practices.
McDonnell, who has said he has not formed an opinion on whether uranium mining should occur, is reviewing public comments received by the working group during its 10-month period of study, a spokesman said. The governor has said he will meet with representatives on both sides of the issue before taking a public stand on uranium mining.