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Va. uranium mining wins 1st legislative test

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 7, 2013 at 3:26 pm •  Published: January 7, 2013
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"Clearly this is an attempt to win the votes of northern Virginia delegates, to say it's not going to be in your backyard, don't worry," said Mike Pucci, a uranium mining opponent from North Carolina. "The toxicity is going to be limited to southern Virginia and all of North Carolina."

Wales said Virginia Uranium is interested only in the Coles Hill site, one of the largest known deposits in the world.

Virginia Uranium has said the expected life of the uranium mine would be 35 years. It would employ approximately 350, the company has said, pressing an economic argument in an economically weak area.

Watkins was pressed on his legislation after the meeting and advised reporters that specifics would be clear once the bill has been drafted.

Robert G. Burnley, a former director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality who now is affiliated with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the legislation is a "de facto" vote on ending the 31-year ban.

"I think that the idea is not to take an up-or-down vote on lifting the ban because it's such an emotional issue and there's so much indisputable evidence against uranium mining," he said.

The moratorium was put in place 1982, several years after the Coles Hill discovery, when interest in mining and the price of uranium waned following an accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. Virginia Uranium resurrected the issue several years as the nation appeared headed to a nuclear power renaissance. The uranium at Coles Hill would be processed into yellowcake to fuel nuclear reactors.

The company has lobbied hard to end the ban, flying legislators to France and Canada on its tab to tour mining and milling facilities and giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to legislators. Several members of the Coal and Energy Commission have received contributions from the company.

While environmental groups have led the charge against mining, the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation took the unexpected step of opposing mining, and municipal groups have also joined in the opposition. Virginia Beach, which draws public drinking water from southern Virginia, has also taken a stand against mining, as well as other cities in Hampton Roads.

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Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sszkotakap.

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Online:

Uranium Working Group: http://www.uwg.vi.virginia.gov/

Virginia Uranium Inc.: http://www.virginiauranium.com/

Keep the Ban: http://keeptheban.org/