This post has been updated.

After being criticized for starting to develop regulations on uranium mining behind closed doors, Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration has opened a meeting to the public Wednesday on Capitol Square.


Patrick Wales, project manager with Virginia Uranium shows core samples from Coles Hill in Chatham last June. (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)

“A hastily-called single meeting should in no way be held up as compliance with the (National Academy of Sciences’) best practices recommendations of openness, transparency and public participation,” said Glen Besa, director of the Sierra Club - Virginia Chapter.    

Administration officials say they will provide information about the regulatory process for mining at Coles Hill in Southside Virginia and review opportunities for the public to give and receive information.

“Our goal is to make certain that these stakeholders have complete and accurate information about the group’s process and to hear any suggestions they might have for improvement,’’ McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell said. 

The meeting will take place Wednesday afternoon at McDonnell’s office complex in the Patrick Henry Building. The media is invited to observe, but was told by McDonnell’s office that there is no time for interviews.

“A decision that could leave the commonwealth with a 10,000 year legacy of toxic waste should not be rushed at any stage in the deliberations,’’ said Dan Holmes, state policy director of the Piedmont Environmental Council. “The gravity of the choices, rather than some artificial timeline, should guide the entire process.’’

Uranium was found three decades ago in Coles Hill, near Chatham, a small town in Pittsylvania County. The deposit, which lies under farmland, begins near the surface and runs about 1,500 feet deep.

Virginia Uranium, the company seeking to mine the site in Southside, had lobbied aggressively to lift the ban this year. Its tests indicate that there is about 119 million pounds of uranium — worth as much as $10 billion — below the surface. It is the world's seventh-largest known deposit — enough to supply all U.S. nuclear power plants for about two years or satisfy Virginia's demands for 75 years.

In January, McDonnell (R) recommended that the state further study the impact of excavating the site that contains the nation’s largest known uranium deposit before lifting a mining ban.

He created a multi-agency group — comprising staff from the Virginia Department of Health, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy — to study the site and draft regulations for a possible new mining industry in Virginia. The group will accept public comments during four open meetings and on a new Web site.

The Piedmont Environmental Council, Virginia League of Conservation Voters and Sierra Club said they are worried that the regulations, which are supposed to be written over the next year, will be done too quickly, behind closed doors and with little input from the public

Public meetings will be held in June (on environmental impacts), August (on water and air quality), October (on public health and safety) and November (on worker health and safety). But much of their work will be done behind closed doors. Wednesday’s meeting is an additional public event.