Five legislators arrived in Paris on Wednesday to see a closed mine in Bessines, in western France, where uranium was excavated for 50 years until the late 1990s. Nine others leave Tuesday on a five-day trip — expected to cost $10,000 a person — that includes about three free days in Paris.
“I want to learn as much as possible so I can make an intelligent decision,” Del. Jeion A. Ward (D-Hampton) said. “My vote can’t be bought. I’m going and coming right back. I’m not going to the south of France. But if anyone else wants to, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
The trips are permissible under Virginia law and must be reported to the state as gifts next year. Most legislators declined the pricey jaunt — the second invite from the company in two years — months before the fall election.
Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) said he declined the trip because of how it might be perceived in what might be a tough reelection bid. Every General Assembly seat is up for grabs.
“I thought it would be a useful trip knowledge-wise, but politically speaking, I think it has the appearance of impropriety,” Albo said.
Two uranium deposits were found three decades ago in Coles Hill, near Chatham, a small town in Pittsylvania County. They begin at the ground’s surface, under 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.
Virginia Uranium hopes to persuade the General Assembly to repeal the nearly three-decade ban on mining at its regular session in January by convincing lawmakers that mining can be done safely. The trip to France is designed to help show that mining was done safely and the region remains free of radiation.
“This is not a vacation. There may be some free time, but going across the pond in three days is not a cakewalk,” said Patrick Wales, the company’s project manager. “If we’re going to ask our legislators to make a decision, it’s important to have the best information in front of them.”
Sens. Mamie E. Locke (D-Hampton) and L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) and Dels. William R. Janis (R-Goochland), John A. Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake) and Mamye E. BaCote (D-Newport News) left Tuesday and will return Sunday, according to legislative offices and a source close to the lawmakers who was not authorized to speak for them.