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State senator starts process to lift uranium mining ban

State Sen. John Watkins of Midlothian announced Monday he plans to patron a bill to lift the 30-year ban on uranium mining in the upcoming General Assembly session.

Watkins, who represents the 10th Senatorial District that includes all of Powhatan County, part of Chesterfield County and part of the City of Richmond, said uranium mining presents a unique opportunity to create jobs and economic development while contributing to the nation’s energy independence.

Watkins serves on the agriculture, conservation and natural resources, finance and transportation committees and chairs the commerce and labor committee, has studied the Governor’s Uranium Working Group report, and said he believes it is appropriate for legislators to formulate legislation to lift the ban.

“One of the very first issues I worked on as a freshman legislator in the Virginia General Assembly back in 1982 was uranium mining, and my interest in the possibility of it remains strong today. Uranium mining presents a unique opportunity to create jobs and economic development while contributing to our nation's energy independence,” Watkins said.

He invited his colleagues to join him in supporting legislation to establish “a robust state regulatory program for uranium mining.” 

Passage of this legislation would not authorize mining activity but would be the first step in a five to eight year process, Watkins predicted. 

In an email that announced his intention to introduce legislation that would lift the uranium moratorium, Watkins said, “I am aware that some of my colleagues remain skeptical about this issue. But I am confident that the information contained in the many reports and studies that have been done over the past three years and the body of knowledge we obtained on the issue 30 years ago, as well as numerous examples of safe and successful uranium mining around the world, will lead them to the same conclusions to which I have come: Today uranium mining is done safely around the world and Virginia is capable of mining it safely too.”

He further explained this is the same conclusion to which he and his colleagues on the Virginia Commission on Coal and Energy arrived at in 1985 when they voted 16-2, and submitted their own report to the General Assembly based on the conclusions and recommendations of what was known as the Uranium Administrative Group. 

That report concluded that "the moratorium on uranium development can be lifted if essential works of the [UTF] are enacted into law." 

The report proposed draft legislation to lift the moratorium and established necessary regulations for the industry. 

The General Assembly did not act back in the 1980s because Marline made it clear it was no longer economically viable to develop the deposit due to a downturn in the market for uranium. 

The General Assembly moved on to other pressing business, effectively leaving the moratorium in place by default, Watkins said.

He thanked the governor's team for an outstanding work product that accomplishes what the Coal and Energy Commission's Uranium Subcommittee asked of the administration last January.

“The goal in asking the regulatory agencies to formulate a conceptual framework prior to our recommending legislative action was to ensure that my colleagues in the General Assembly had adequate information to make an informed decision on the matter,” Watkins said. 

With several studies complete and accompanied by significant public input, Watkins said he believes legislators have arrived at the point of proposing legislation. 

“I look forward to the legislative debate,” he concluded.