Veteran Virginia Sen. John Watkins (R-Midlothian) says he will sponsor legislation during the upcoming session that would end the state’s 30-year ban on uranium mining.

FILE: Patrick Wales, Project Manager for Virginia Uranium Inc stands on an outcrop of leatherwood granite on Coles Hill Farm which is six miles east of Chatham, VA on June 16, 2011. (Tracy A. Woodward/THE WASHINGTON POST)

In a statement Monday, Watkins said he believes it is “appropriate” to formulate such legislation and has asked the General Assembly’s Legislative Services division to craft a bill based on the suggestions outlined in a report published last week on the issue.

“Passage of this legislation would be the first step in a long process,” Watkins said, noting that such a bill would not authorize any mining activity.

In January, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) asked the General Assembly not to lift the ban during the 2012 session and instead called for the study. In his order, McDonnell set a deadline of Dec. 1 for the group to present its findings.

A working group was established to explore how the country’s largest known uranium deposit should be safely mined if lawmakers were to lift the permitting ban. At the center of the hard-fought issue is a 119-million pound, $10 billion uranium lode in south central Virginia, which the site’s owners are hoping to mine.

Watkins, who chairs the state Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, said he first addressed the issue of uranium mining as a freshman member of the General Assembly in the 1980s. He said the moratorium on uranium mining permits has remained in place “by default” as the market for the metal declined.

“The goal in asking the regulatory agencies to formulate a conceptual framework prior to our recommending legislative action was to ensure that my colleagues in the General Assembly had adequate information to make an informed decision on the matter,” Watkins’s statement said. “With several studies complete and accompanied by significant public input, it is my view that we have arrived at the point of proposing legislation. I look forward to the legislative debate.”