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.
They have said they're primarily concerned about the milling â¿¿ the separation of ore from rock. It creates vast amounts of waste that must be stored for generations.
Opponents fear a breach of containment cells holding the waste would contaminate public drinking water supplies for localities as far away as Virginia Beach, nearly 200 miles from the proposed mine. The tourist city, Virginia's largest, had taken a public stand against mining.
Environmentalists were joined in their opposition by local grass-root organizers, Virginia's largest farm lobby, the state's medical society, municipal and church groups, the NAACP and others.
The company promised the creation of 350 jobs over the 35-year life of the mine but the economics of the mine could not outweigh what critics called the "stigma" of mining the fuel for nuclear reactors.
"It's a stigma, that cloud hanging over the region that will detract economic development from the region as long as it's there," said Sen. Frank Ruff, a Republican whose district is in Southside Virginia. "We need to put it to rest."
Watkins' legislation would have effectively ended the state's 31-year prohibition on the mining of uranium. The moratorium was put in place when interest was just stirring in the deposit but quickly waned after the accident at Three Mile Island.
Virginia Uranium revived interest in mining the deposit about a half dozen years ago when the U.S. nuclear power industry seemed on the cusp of a renaissance. The Coles Hill deposit could power the country's nuclear power plants for 2 Â½ years. The U.S. gets 90 percent of its yellowcake â¿¿ the reactor fuel â¿¿ from places like Canada and Australia.