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McDonnell seeks delay on consideration of uranium mining in Virginia

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Gov. Bob McDonnell is asking the General Assembly to wait a year before taking any action on lifting a 30-year moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia.

McDonnell said questions raised in two detailed studies on uranium mining in Virginia showed the state needs further on-site study before considering whether to allow uranium mining in the state. The National Academy of Sciences and Chmura Economics & Analytics released reports on the science and economics behind uranium mining in December.

“The NAS study was broadly helpful in providing a better understanding of the associated economic benefits, which are potentially significant, as well as the possible risks, which are potentially serious, associated with uranium mining in this geography and climate,” McDonnell said in a statement. “However, in order for an informed decision to be made by state lawmakers, we need more detailed information.”

McDonnell has instructed state agencies to create a Uranium Working Group that will provide detailed study and information on whether a moratorium should be lifted, and if so, how to proceed forward. The recommendations are to be in place in time for the 2013 legislative session.

McDonnell’s working group is to consist of staff from the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Virginia Department of Health. McDonnell has instructed the group to develop a regulatory framework for uranium mining in Virginia. He also has instructed the group to do an on-site scientific analysis of the Coles Hill deposits in Pittsylvania County.
Virginia Uranium Inc., which wants to mine and mill an estimated 119 million pound uranium deposit in Pittsylvania County, applauded the step.

“The governor’s decision is an important step toward establishing a regulatory framework that will enable our company to build and operate the safest uranium mine in the world right here in Virginia,” Patrick Wales, project manager at Virginia Uranium, said in a statement.

The Coles Hill deposits make up the largest known, undeveloped uranium deposit in the country.

The proposal faced mounting opposition from environmentalists, localities concerned about the operations’ effect on drinking water and many citizen and business groups.

On Wednesday, two groups representing state legislators from Southern Virginia and a group of area business leaders, asked the General Assembly to wait on consideration of the moratorium. The Virginia Coalition and The Alliance for Progress in Southern Virginia both said there were too many unanswered questions to allow uranium mining to progress. 

In drafting a regulatory framework, McDonnell said the regulations should cover the potential for natural catastrophic events, monitoring required by the Department of Environmental Quality, fee structure for establishing and enforcing regulations, disposal of mine waste and environmental standards at the mine.

The group is to regularly report its findings to the Uranium Subcommittee of the Coal and Energy Commission through this year and present their findings to the Coal and Energy Commission before Dec. 1, 2012.

Virginia Business covered the issue in depth in its January cover story, which you can see here.


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