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Uranium Mining Could Prompt Radioactive Debate In Richmond

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The Republican majority in Richmond is seen as likely to lift the ban on uranium mining in Virginia, opening the path to proposals.
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The Republican majority in Richmond is seen as likely to lift the ban on uranium mining in Virginia, opening the path to proposals.

Legislators across Virginia say they are being heavily lobbied on the issue of uranium mining, which is certain to become one of the hottest topics in the upcoming session of the General Assembly.

Chatham-based Virginia Uranium Incorporated hopes to overturn a longstanding ban on uranium mining to tap into the largest undeveloped uranium deposits in the nation, which are in Pittsylvania County, bordering North Carolina.

"Contrary to popular belief, the vote — if we have it this year — is not whether to mine uranium or not," says Del. Dave Albo, who is undecided. "It's to lift the ban so they can present plans on how they're going to do it."

Environmentalists say they are concerned about a radioactive byproduct of uranium mining known as "tailings," which they say can pollute downstream communities in the Hampton Roads area. Delegate Rob Krupicka says he'll vote against lifting the ban.

"I don't disagree with the fact that this portion of the state needs economic development, but I also think that folks shouldn't have to sacrifice the health of their water or the long-term health of their community for jobs," says Krupicka.

A recent analysis conducted by the George Mason Center for Regional Analysis concluded that the net fiscal benefit of the plan would be equivalent to reducing the tax rate in Pittsylvania County by four cents. Meanwhile, Virginia Uranium is has engaged in an intense lobbying effort, contributing more than $52,000 to political campaigns this year.

"Republicans are more supportive of the idea than Democrats, and considering that they control the governorship and the General Assembly, if there is enough movement there they could do it," says analyst Geoff Skelley with the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

The issue came up during the last session, but the governor asked that the General Assembly not take action so he could create a multi-agency working group. That group is set to present its findings to the Coal and Energy Commission next week.

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