The fight over uranium mining is now moving from rural Virginia to Richmond.
It promises to be one of the most important issues state lawmakers will tackle during the General Assembly session that begins Wednesday.
Even before the legislative Assembly starts, an influential committee is scheduled to take up the issue on Monday in Richmond. Supporters and opponents plan to be there, and at least one leading lawmaker is expected to reveal his position then.
After months of debate, the next few weeks will determine if the state is going to open the door to uranium mining.
On a country road that runs through the Coles Hill property in Pittsylvania County, a geiger counter picks up radiation in rock near the surface.
Experts believe that underneath a cow pasture is the largest undeveloped deposit of uranium in the United States.
Virginia Uranium Project Manager Patrick Wales says it's time to move forward with the long process that could one day allow mining on this property.
“You know I just really hope the public policy decision is based on the science, based on the facts,” Wales told us. “There certainly is a lot of emotion, and sometimes even a lot rhetoric associated with this decision.”
Opponents believe the science is on their side. And as the debate shifts to Richmond, they believe lawmakers are getting the message.
“All the studies, basically say if you do this you're going to do this at your own risk," said Andrew Lester, the Executive Director of the Roanoke River Basin Association. "You can't guarantee anything that's what it really comes down to,” he said.
The debate isn't falling along party lines. Salem Delegate Greg Habeeb is a member of the Coal and Energy Commission that will consider the issue on Monday.
“I have heard that we may even have Democratic leadership on the Senate side supporting it, and some Republicans in leadership in the House potentially opposed,” Habeeb said. “A lot of people don't understand, oftentimes Richmond is about geography not partisanship.”
Lawmakers are preparing for a short session of the General Assembly that should wrap up before the end of February. While we haven't actually seen the uranium legislation yet, supporters and opponents won't have to wait long for meaningful votes on this issue.