Uranium Mining Focus of Richmond, VA Meeting

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"Opponents say state doesn't have the resources to oversee the largest uranium deposit in the U.S."

A National Academy of Sciences committee pressed Virginia mining and environmental officials Monday on the state's ability to regulate uranium mining if a 1982 state ban is lifted.

Opponents said the statements of the department heads made it clear the state doesn't have the resources to oversee the mining of the largest uranium deposit in the United States.

The meeting was the second all-day session held in Virginia by the panel of scientists, mining experts and environmental officials. Members are expected to complete their findings in December on the consequences of Virginia ending its ban on uranium mining. The committee will not make a recommendation.

The question of lifting the ban comes amid a nuclear power renaissance in the U.S. and a 119-million-pound deposit near the North Carolina border that Virginia Uranium Inc. wants to mine. Domestic nuclear power plants rely heavily on uranium mined outside the U.S.

Environmentalists and some local residents have opposed tapping the Pittsylvania County deposit because they are fearful the mining and milling will foul the air, rivers, streams and reservoirs with radioactive tailings scattered by torrential rains or hurricanes. Uranium mining in the U.S. has taken place in drier, western climates, and this would be the first on the East Coast.

Virginia Uranium, which estimates the ore's value at $8 billion to $10 billion, maintains the mining can be done safely, and provide hundreds of jobs in an economically depressed area of the state.

The directors of three state agencies outlined how various aspects of uranium mining would be overseen by their agencies, with the director of the state's largest environmental agency making it clear budget cuts already have stretched his staff.

"In the context of resources, we set priorities," said David K. Paylor, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality.

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