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State Sen. John Watkins (R-Powhatan, center) withdrew
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Date published: 2/1/2013
RICHMOND--A proposal to mine uranium in Virginia was abruptly abandoned Thursday in the Legislature, and supporters scrambled to appeal directly to the governor to salvage what would be the first full-scale mining operation of the radioactive ore on the East Coast.
Unable to deliver the votes in the General Assembly, Sen. John Watkins withdrew his legislation to establish state regulations for uranium mining in Southside Virginia, a rural area along the North Carolina state line and home to the largest-known deposit of the radioactive ore in the U.S.
Watkins instead asked fellow Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell to use his administrative powers to have state agencies draw up the rules. McDonnell has not taken a position on the divisive issue and his spokesman J. Tucker Martin said the governor was reviewing the request.
Meanwhile, opponents of uranium mining, many of whom had traveled to Richmond for a hearing on the legislation, cheered when Watkins announced his decision.
"This is a resounding--a resounding--victory," said Cale Jaffe of the Southern Environmental Law Center.
He credited broad opposition to the proposal, which was pitched by the mining company as a job creator in a hard-hit section.
"This is not just environmentalists," Jaffe said. "This is small-business owners in Southside, it's farmers,
The proposal was pushed by Virginia Uranium Inc., a company run by the owners of the so-called Coles Hill deposit, where an estimated 119 million pounds of the ore is located in an area of the state called Southside.
The company immediately embraced Watkins' request to the governor and a spokesman said the approach would be thorough and transparent.
"Some policymakers have suggested that unanswered questions remain," said spokesman Patrick Wales. "Sen. Watkins' suggested course of action would ensure that they have the benefit of all possible information on this issue before casting a vote on lifting the moratorium."
The General Assembly would still have to vote to accept the regulations, probably in 2014.
Uranium mining has been done almost exclusively in the arid West and critics said Virginia's exposure to tropical storms and torrential rains made it a bad choice to mine the ore.