The bill that would have lifted a ban on uranium mining in Virginia was withdrawn On Jan. 31 just before a state Senate panel vote where it was expected to be defeated.
The bill, pulled by its sponsor, Republican Sen. John C. Watkins, was backed by Virginia Uranium Inc. which wanted to mine an estimated $7 billion worth of uranium from a farm in southern Virginia, The Wall Street Journal reported.
A coalition of environmentalists, farmers and municipal leaders opposed the bill, saying mining uranium would endanger the environment and water supply.
Supporters of lifting the ban say any radioactive pollution caused at the proposed mine could be contained. They say the mine would have bolstered the region's economy and helped make the U.S. energy-independent.
After withdrawing the bill, said in a statement it was Watkins said, “It is very frustrating to me that I have been unable to convince some of my colleagues that this [uranium mining] effort can be accomplished safely and economically here in Virginia.”
The bill’s withdrawal marks the end, at least for this year, of efforts by Virginia Uranium Inc. to mine the largest known deposit of undeveloped uranium in the U.S. The company estimates the deposit contains at least 119 million lbs of uranium oxide—which when processed is used to fuel nuclear reactors—beneath part of a 3,500-acre farm outside Chatham, VA.
“We’re not discouraged,” said Patrick Wales, Virginia Uranium's project manager. He added that persuading legislators could take several legislative sessions.
In 1982, the General Assembly imposed a moratorium on uranium mining. In 2006, the family that owns the farm where the ore is located formed Virginia Uranium and began pressing the state to lift its ban.
Robert Bodnar, an economic geologist at Virginia Tech who has studied the site, partly with Virginia Uranium funding, said: “In this case, the paranoia and the unfounded fears and concerns have won out over good, hard science.”