January 31, 2013
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The sponsor of legislation that would have allowed uranium mining in Virginia has withdrawn his bill amid almost certain defeat in a Senate committee.
Sen. John Watkins withdrew the bill Thursday before the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources was to hear it. A companion bill remains in the House, but its prospects of moving forward appear slim.
Watkins said it was "with some regret" that he withdrew the legislation, but he did not immediately elaborate.
Watkins' legislation would have created the regulatory structure to oversee uranium mining in Virginia, which would effectively end a 31-year prohibition on the mining of the radioactive ore.
A company has pushed for an end to the moratorium so it can mine the largest known uranium deposit in the U.S. It is located in Pittsylvania.
Full-scale uranium mining has never occurred on the East Coast, and opponents fear the environmental impacts.
The issue has been pushed aggressively by Virginia Uranium Inc., which wants to tap a 119-million-pound deposit of the ore that it values at $7 billion. The company has said the mine would create more than 300 jobs an economically struggling region of the state and can be done safely.
But a diverse coalition has pushed back: farmers, environmental and conservation groups, medical experts, municipalities and grassroots activists in Southside Virginia, who showed up in force for the committee hearing.
The opposition is based on concerns the mining and milling - the processing of the ore for fuel in nuclear reactors - pose a threat to the environment. Opponents have been especially alarmed by the prospect of storing radioactive waste on site for generations. They fear they'll enter public water supplies.
Virginia Uranium has said it would use below-grade storage units that would minimize risks.
The proposal has been the subject of a raft of studies, including one by a National Academy of Sciences panel. It concluded the state would be challenged to create regulations to ensure safe mining and milling. None of the studies has offered absolute assurances that mining and milling can be done risk-free.
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