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Uranium mining moves forward in Richmond

Uranium mining and milling in Pittsylvania County came one step closer to becoming a reality Monday afternoon when the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission voted to move forward on drafting a bill that would lift the ban on uranium mining.

After listening to just over a dozen speakers during a noon hearing in Richmond on Monday, a majority of commission members voted to proceed with establishing a regulatory framework should the General Assembly vote to lift the moratorium in this year’s session that gets under way Wednesday.

The coal and energy commission, comprised of a panel of five senators, eight delegates and seven citizen representatives, recommended drafting proposed legislation to establish the regulations that must be in place before the state's 1982 moratorium on uranium mining can be lifted.

The vote was 11-2 with several abstentions and Del. Don Merricks of Pittsylvania County and citizen representative Ronnie Smith voting in opposition.

If legislators decide to lift the moratorium, it will be necessary to amend and adopt statutes and authorize the subsequent development of actual regulations pursuant to the Virginia Administrative Process Act.  

Only after regulations are developed, proposed, adopted and approved following a lengthy public process could an application for a permit to mine uranium in Virginia be developed and submitted for consideration.

State Sen. John Watkins of Powhatan, who also serves as vice-chairman of the coal and energy commission plans to introduce legislation during this year’s session to regulate uranium mining. His bill will apply only to Pittsylvania County, he said Monday during the hearing.

He also said Monday he intends to bring his bill before the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

Virginia Uranium Inc. is eager for legislators to lift the 30-year ban, so it can get started on the process to mine the deposit of ore located on Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County.

The Coles Hill uranium deposit is one of the world’s most significant undeveloped deposits of uranium ore. The mine is projected to produce up to 120 million pounds of yellow cake over its economic life, enough to serve the needs of Virginia’s currently installed nuclear power plants for 75 years. When fully operational, the mine is expected to produce 2 million pounds of yellow cake per year.

Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy, accompanied by Halifax Mayor Dick Moore and several members of Halifax Town Council, addressed the coal and energy commission, speaking against uranium mining on behalf of Virginia Muncipal League President Ed Daley.

Espy urged the commission to recommend keeping the moratorium in place as the best way to preserve the safety of citizens and the town’s water supply.

Virginia Municipal League has taken a stand opposing the mining of uranium, Espy said, noting the staff studied the issue with “an open, honest and balanced approach.”

After comprehensive study of safeguards, the municipal league concluded no way exists to reduce the potential risks to its membership of downstream stakeholders.

Nathan Lott, executive director of Virginia Conservation Network, also voiced opposition to lifting the ban saying, “It’s not worth the risk.”

Also speaking in opposition to lifting the moratorium were Chatham dairy farmer Tommy Motley, Chatham resident Eloise Nenon and Roanoke River Basin Association Executive Director Andrew Lester.

Speaking in favor of lifting the ban Monday afternoon were Virginia Uranium Inc. Project Manager Patrick Wales, Buddy Mayhew of Blairs who is a member of People for Economic Prosperity, Shockoe Missionary Baptist Church Pastor, the Rev. Antonelle Myler of Java and Ray Ganther.