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Va. Uranium Panel Meets In Richmond For Last Time

STEVE SZKOTAK

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) â¿¿ A multi-agency state panel studying the possibility of uranium mining in Virginia conducts its final public meeting Tuesday before submitting its report to legislators in December.

The Uranium Working Group meeting is scheduled to review statutory and regulatory changes that would be required if a 30-year ban on uranium mining is ended so a mining company can tap a 119-milllion-pound deposit of the radioactive ore in Southside Virginia. The Richmond meeting is also expected to examine emergency preparedness and response plans, should mining be allowed.

Maureen Matsen, Gov. Bob McDonnell's top energy adviser and spokeswoman for the working group, said she expects a report to be issued to the General Assembly's Coal and Energy Commission in mid-December. It will not include a recommendation on whether the ban should be lifted.

Sen. John Watkins, a Powhatan Republican who is vice chairman of the commission and its uranium subcommittee, said that decision will be left to the commission. "The Coal and Energy Commission will make a recommendation as to whether the ban should be lifted, whether we should leave it, or make no recommendation at all," he said.

If it goes to the full General Assembly, it will likely spark a major environmental debate in 2013.

Should the issue end up in the full legislature, Watkins said, "It's going to be a close vote."

Virginia Uranium Inc. is lobbying to have the ban lifted so it can mine the largest known deposit of the radioactive ore in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world. It estimates its value at $7 billion.

The company contends the mining and milling â¿¿ or processing the ore for fuel in nuclear power plants â¿¿ can be conducted safely. It has said it could create hundreds of jobs in a part of the state sorely in need of a new economic base and generate state and local taxes topping $100 million.

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