ButÂ some critics complainÂ that the study, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year, is being conducted behind closed doors with little input from the public.
Virginia Uranium, aÂ company that wants to mine the site, had lobbied aggressively to lift a three-Âdecade ban on uranium mining this year, flying legislators toÂ FranceÂ andCanadaÂ to visit mines andÂ donating to their campaigns. Instead, McDonnell (R) recommended in January that the state needed to further study the impact of excavating the site before theÂ General AssemblyÂ considers lifting the moratorium.
Uranium was found three decades ago in Coles Hill, near Chatham, a small town in Pittsylvania County, near the southern corner of the state. The deposit, located under farmland, begins near the surface and runs about 1,500 feet deep.
Virginia Uranium said tests indicate there is about 119Â million pounds of uranium â€” worth as much as $10Â billion â€” below the surface. It is the worldâ€™s seventh-largest known deposit â€” enough to supply all U.S. nuclear power plants for about two years or satisfy Virginiaâ€™s demands for 75 years.
McDonnell created aÂ multi-agency groupÂ â€” composed of staff from the stateâ€™s Department of Health, Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy â€” charged with studying the site and drafting regulations.
To help with the study, the state hired Wright Environmental Management at a cost of about $500,000, according to Matt Conrad, the governorâ€™s deputy chief of staff. The state has had discussions with a second consultant but has not finalized a contract.
Groups concerned about health and safety are questioning why the state is looking into how regulations might be written and hiring costly consultants when legislators have yet to act. They also say a uranium mine could contaminate natural resources, cause illness, and have long-term effects on plants and animals.
â€œVirginia Uranium did not have votes in the General Assembly this year, so in our opinion the governor came to the rescue,â€ said Glen Besa, director of the Sierra Clubâ€™s Virginia chapter. â€œThe outcome is already known.â€