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Panel backs plan to regulate uranium mining in Va.

RICHMOND

A state legislative commission recommended Monday that Virginia develop a regulatory program for uranium mining, an initial step in a contentious process that could determine whether a company can mine and mill uranium in rural Pittsylvania County.

The Virginia Commission on Coal and Energy voted Monday to support a conceptual plan proposed by state Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, who wants the state to lift its 31-year-old moratorium on uranium mining and establish a regulatory structure for the industry. Watkins will introduce legislation during the General Assembly session that begins Wednesday.

Virginia Uranium Inc. hopes to tap a 119 million-pound deposit - worth an estimated $7 billion - at Coles Hill near Chatham. The company and the project's supporters have touted potential economic benefits and insisted that mining and milling can be done safely.

Opponents from Southside Virginia to Hampton Roads have raised concerns about potential environmental and health risks associated with mining waste and its potential to affect the Roanoke River basin downstream from the Coles Hill site.

Several uranium mining opponents wore bright yellow T-shirts with the slogan "Keep the Ban" at Monday's commission meeting, and some shouted after the panel's vote.

A multi-agency working group appointed by Gov. Bob McDonnell released a report Nov. 30 outlining a regulatory framework for mining and milling that could be put in place if lawmakers lift the ban. After the commission received a briefing on the report, Watkins said he will introduce legislation to codify that framework and effectively limit uranium mining to the Coles Hill site.

The commission voted 11-2, with three abstentions, for Watkins' motion to advance the issue. Eleven of the commission's 13 legislative members are Republicans, and there are seven citizen members on the panel.

Del. Don Merricks, R-Chatham, who represents the Coles Hill area, and Sen. Ralph Smith, R-Roanoke County, were the only commission members who voted against Watkins' motion. Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, and Del. Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke, missed the meeting, and Sen. Charles Colgan, D-Manassas, abstained.

Merricks said he has not been convinced that mining waste, or tailings, can be safely maintained. He also voiced objections to having the commission vote without having a specific bill to consider.

"To be quite frank, I think this - pardon my expression - is a bass-ackward way of doing it," Merricks said. "We should have a bill that's referred to the commission, and then the commission acts on a bill. But here, we're basically voting on a concept. And the concept is not fully developed."

Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem, voted for Watkins' motion despite having similar concerns.

"It is a little uncomfortable to be essentially voting on a bill that doesn't exist," Habeeb said. "When I vote yes, my yes is going to be a vote that we ought to continue this conversation legislatively. And once we have a bill, then we'll be able to make a substantive decision as to whether or not the bill provides the protections and the proper regulatory framework we need to have going forward."

Del. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, who chairs the commission's uranium mining subcommittee, said he supported Watkins' proposal, "believing, as I do, that we can ensure safety and we can provide for the protection of our natural environment if we do these regulations the right way."

Posted to: News Politics State Government Virginia

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Radioactive for thousands of years

Tailings from uranium mining stay radioactive for thousands of years and can contaminate the groundwater. No need to take the risk, unless you are a politician with connections to the mining industry.

Legislators on the take

anyone voting yes does not represent their constituents and should be voted out in the next election. Putting citizens at needless risk for the economic benefit of others is bad politics at best. There should also be investigations to insure that there are no conflicts of interest or money connection to this project by any legislator able to vote on this issue or anyone on the Governor's multi-agency working group.

keeping the ban

Look at the NAS report and you will see that major uranium deposits are all over the state of Virginia.

However, Watkins doesn't want uranium mining in places that would affect the watershed of his home, family, and constituency. Yet he is willing to allow mining in the communities he does not represent.

This is a travesty. Nuclear reactors are being decommissioned all over the U.S. This is not for energy independence. This is to sell uranium on the global market.

It is time to be led by those who represent Pittsylvania County, not by those willing to sacrifice it.

It is time to keep the ban.

keeping the ban

Look at the NAS report and you will see that major uranium deposits are all over the state of Virginia.

However, Watkins doesn't want uranium mining in places that would affect the watershed of his home, family, and constituency. Yet he is willing to allow mining in the communities he does not represent.

This is a travesty. Nuclear reactors are being decommissioned all over the U.S. This is not for energy independence. This is to sell uranium on the global market.

It is time to be led by those who represent Pittsylvania County, not by those willing to sacrifice it.

It is time to keep the ban.

Best Government Money can buy

This is a perfect example of how greed and money will outweigh the need of the people. Establish a commission to regulate what? When the regulations are stacked in favor of big business, the only loosers will be the public. If you think that big busines will not cut corners or protect the public, well you are mistaken. They will only protect their bottom line. VA govt do not care about the safety of the public, someone is just getting their coffers padded plain and simple...They should never approve such a deal. There's no such thing as safe radioactive material when business is making a profit from it, just loosers.

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