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Va. Uranium Backers Take Their Message To Capitol

By STEVE SZKOTAK

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) â¿¿ Dozens of Southside Virginia proponents of uranium mining arrived by bus at the Capitol on Thursday as lawmakers provided more details on proposed legislation that would end a 1980s state moratorium on mining the ore used in nuclear power reactors.

The elected officials stressed that the legislation would create a robust, highly regulated environment for uranium mining, which has never been done at full scale on the East Coast, and provide jobs and revenue for Southside Virginia. About 70 mining supporters stood behind them and nodded in agreement.

"I respect the concerns that opponents of uranium mining have expressed," Sen. John Watkins said. "My bill is a sincere attempt to address those concerns."

Watkins, a Powhatan Republican, introduced two other allies of uranium mining: Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, and Delegate Jackson Miller, R-Manassas, who said he will introduce similar legislation in the House of Delegates.

Watkins said his bill is still being drafted but he presented a list of its key elements. One would effectively limit the mining to Virginia Uranium Inc. and the 119-million-pound deposit it wants to mine in Pittsylvania County, about 20 miles from the North Carolina line. The so-called Coles Hill deposit is the largest known uranium deposit in the U.S. and among the largest in the world.

The bill would make the State Corporation Commission the lead licensing agency as various other state departments â¿¿ mining, environmental and public health â¿¿ develop uranium mining regulations. It also would require Virginia Uranium to store waste, called tailings, in below-grade containment centers.

The vast amount of tailings created in separating the ore from rock would have to be stored for generations. It has been the key environmental concern of opponents who fear a catastrophic weather event could scatter radioactive-laced waste in public drinking water supplies.

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