Critics argue that full-blown uranium mining has never occurred east of the Mississippi and that Virginia's wet, storm-prone climate would be a threat to huge containment units that would store radioactive-laced rock for generations.
The company has pledged to store waste, called tailings, in below-ground cells, which it says minimize the risk of a release of radioactive waste.
Scores of groups and localities have taken a stand against ending the ban, and Norfolk and Virginia beach have hiring lobbyists to take on pro-uranium interests in the legislature. The cities, which draw water from Southside Virginia, are spending as much as $89,000 on the effort, the Virginian-Pilot reports. The Virginia Association of Counties and the Virginia Municipal League have endorsed legislative positions seeking to keep the ban.
Watkins said he supports ending the ban, and he cites a constitutional amendment passed on Election Day Nov. 6 as one reason for his position. The constitutional amendment widely endorsed by voters limits government's powers of eminent domain.
"To me it's a property rights issue," Watkins said. "We just had an amendment to the Constitution of Virginia dealing with the fundamental right of property ownership. That ban reflects a denial of property rights on one particular element."
A report by the National Academy of Sciences concluded Virginia faced "steep hurdles" to ensure that uranium mining could be conducted safely. In the wake of that report one year ago, McDonnell asked the General Assembly to delay any action on the ban in 2012 so his working group could take a deeper look at that study, as well as other studies, and examine a wide-ranging list of other issues.
Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sszkotakap