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Virginia Politics
Posted at 12:42 PM ET, 09/12/2011

Uranium company flying Va. lawmakers to Canada will spend $3,000 per person

The company flying lawmakers and community leaders to Canada this month to see an active uranium mine will spend about $3,000 per person on the trip.

The three-day trip includes a visit to a mine and mill as well as meetings with Canadian officials, including the ministers of energy and natural resources, federal regulators and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, according to an itinerary released Monday in response to a request.

About 15 people are expected to go, including five legislators. Sen. John C. Watkins (R-Chesterfield) and Del. Onzlee Ware (D-Roanoke) are both attending. The company declined to release the full list of attendees.

“I’m particularly interested in how they are dealing with the environmental issues,’’ Watkins said in an interview. Ware did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Virginia Uranium invited state legislators and local elected officials to visit an active mine near Saskatchewan, as it tries to convince the General Assembly to allow mining in what is thought to be the largest deposit of uranium in the United States, in south central Virginia.

The group will leave Richmond the afternoon of Sept. 26 and return the evening of Sept. 28. They will take a private jet from Richmond for the nearly four-hour flight to Saskatoon and stay at the Delta Hotel.

On the first day, they will travel and have dinner at the hotel. On the second day, they will fly to Cameco’s Rabbit Lake airstrip in the Athabasca Basin, where they will tour the mine and mill. On the third day, they will have meetings with federal officials and fly back to Virginia.

Cameco’s Rabbit Lake operation opened in 1975 and is the longest operating uranium production facility in North America. The group will tour Eagle Point mine and Rabbit Lake mill, where they will watch         finished yellow cake packed into drums for transport.

The trip is similar to one that about a dozen legislators took this summer to France that came under criticism from environmental groups concerned that unearthed radioactive material could contaminate the state’s land, air and drinking water. Last year, three legislators, including Watkins and Ware, traveled to France.

Virginia Uranium already sent at least one other lawmaker — Sen. Frank W. Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) — to Saskatchewan this year. Wagner, who also went to France last year, said that the trips were beneficial but that he hasn’t made up his mind about whether he supports uranium mining.

Two uranium deposits were found three decades ago in Coles Hill, near Chatham, a small town in Pittsylvania. They begin at the ground’s surface, beneath land used to raise cattle, hay and timber, and run about 1,500 feet deep.

The company said tests indicate that about 119 million pounds of uranium — worth as much as $10 billion — are below the surface. That would be enough to supply all the country’s nuclear power plants for about two years or all of Virginia’s demands for 75 years.

The state’s Coal and Energy Commission asked the National Academy of Sciences and the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech to review whether the uranium can be safely mined. A report is expected in December.

By  |  12:42 PM ET, 09/12/2011

 
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