Sticking Southside With Uranium Mining

By Peter Galuszka

If you are a resident of Pittsylvania County in Virginia’s Southside, you can be happy to know that some Richmond legislators and a few citizens want to restrict uranium mining exclusively to your county.

Led by Republican State Sen. John Watkins of Powhatan, the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission voted 11-2 to lift a 31-year-old moratorium on uranium mining and set up a state regulatory apparatus to oversee it. This pushes the matter to the General Assembly for further action.

The move was no big surprise but limiting mining to Pittsylvania was. Asked why he pushed this limitation, Watkins told reporters, “Because I want the bill to pass.”

Now if you live down in Chatham near Coles Hill Farm where the 119-million pound uranium deposit is located, you can look at this two ways. Since your local economy is still smacked down by the loss of textile, tobacco and furniture  jobs, you can thank Watkins and the Commission for pushing maybe 1,000 new jobs your way. Or, you can damn them for leaving you with any possible ill-effects from uranium mining and milling for the next few decades or centuries.

You see, if you are a resident of Culpeper, Madison, Fauquier or Orange Counties, you need not worry. Lifting the ban only applies down South where the poor people live.

Years ago, Marline Corp., a Canadian-backed outfit similar to Virginia Uranium now seeking the current mining permission, had a survey and took leases on thousands of acres in those counties as well.

There has been plenty of opposition to the Pittsylvania project from local residents, the cities of Norfolk and Virginia beach that get some of the drinking water from nearby lakes and possible, the North Carolina legislature which is considering a resolution opposing mining. Even the Virginia Farm Bureau is against lifting the ban.

But imagine how much worse the publicity farther north would be if you bothered the rich horse people of Fauquier or folks in Culpeper or Orange which are fast becoming outer, outer bedrooms for the Washington area.

The thinking in Richmond seems positively imperial. It’s just like Gov. Robert F. McDonnell pushing toll booths on Interstate 95 not in Northern Virginia or the state capital, but down near Emporia which has  lackluster employment rates, income levels and political clout.

What this also means is that the state would have to hire up to 30 new professionals and spend millions developing a brand new state regulatory structure to handle uranium mining and milling. A state study group just researched the matter.

Watkins has been pushing uranium mining since he was first in the General Assembly back in the 1980s and now-defunct Marline was in charge. But not all who really want mining are so open about it. Their strategy seems to be to recognize that the state has no clue how to manage mining, study it to death, recommend setting up a regulatory infrastructure, lift the ban, wait several years and then have Virginia Uranium let ‘er rip.

This assumes, of course, that global uranium prices, which are really determined by Kazakhstan, Canada and Asian electric utilities, are still high enough to make this work.

5 Responses to Sticking Southside With Uranium Mining

  1. Didn’t we just have this argument over a family farm running afoul of local zoning regulations? Nothing in the proposal before the General Assembly limits Pittsylvania’s authority, and its elected officials have the final say on zoning and land use. The way I look at this, Luddite fear mongers outside the county have imposed a total moratorium from Richmond on a perfectly legal business opportunity for decades.

    The ad in yesterday’s Times Dispatch (yes, I still look at actual printed newspapers) submitted by the opponents took me all the way back to 1964 and the Lyndon Johnson television ad about nuclear war. Johnson the candidate for peace. Zip forward two years and we are waist deep in the big muddy. I noted that local governments were among the sponsors of the ads, the same local governments who worship at the altar of local autonomy. What about Pittsylvania’s local autonomy?

    It is a balancing act. It always is. I’m perfectly happy to have the local officials deciding whether to allow mining. I predict they won’t. And I am totally comfortable that the regulatory structure is there to make sure it is done safely if allowed. Many endeavors involve risk, but handling raw uranium and even the milled version provides extremely low level risks. They will not be processing fuel. They will not be handling spent fuel rods or even more challenging, weapon grade plutonium. The raw uranium they fear is already in the soil, already in the water. If a load gets dumped in a river, people downstream are not a great risk unless it is just left there forever. The stuff is buried now and the remainders will be — buried.

    I especially love the contradictory argument that we can’t do this without major regulation, and we can’t afford to hire the regulators! This operation, if allowed, will generate more than enough licensing and tax revenue to cover the cost of regulation.

    Virginia has nuclear power plants, and at times dozens of nuclear reactors parked in Hampton Roads on Navy ships. I’m sure many military bases have had or still have nuclear weapons stored. Virginia has a growing commercial nuclear industry. When you get cancer, you are treated with nuclear radiation. The unreasonable fear of raw uranium is nothing more than rampant ignorance, with an underlying political agenda against all forms of cheap and abundant energy.

  2. I was in Japan a few months ago. They shut down all their nuclear reactors. Their economy suffered but the world didn’t end. I understand that they are either going to restart or have restarted some plants. Before Fukishima, the Japanese had hoped to generate 50% of electricity from nuclear power by 2030. Today, they are very seriously discussing a goal of 0% by 2030.

    Virginia’s state motto should be changed from “Sic Semper Tyrannus” to “A Day Late and A Dollar Short”.

    As for safety, uranium mining is a mixed bag. There have been tremendous improvements made in recent decades. However, mistakes and unforeseen problems are very, very costly.

    Meanwhile, the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond rambles along. The same group of rocket scientists that let Dominion build nuclear reactors on a known earthquake fault line will now decide whether uranium mining is sufficiently lucrative to risk the health, lives and environment of people in Pittsylvania County.

    Is there anybody in our state legislature who thinks that maybe, just maybe, the people of Pittsylvania County ought to vote on this idea before it is implemented?

    This will be a good issue for Cuccinelli and McAuliffe.

    If I were T-Mac I’d threaten to veto any bill supporting uranium mining that crossed my desk unless the people in the affected area directly voted on the matter.

    It’s high time that somebody back-handed the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond and Richmond-outsider McAuliffe may be just the right man to do it.

  3. Guidelines for safe recovery of uranium are established and regulated at the Federal level, both by the NRC and the Dept of the Interior Mining Divisions. The Commonwealth does not need to reinvent the wheel on this one.

    http://www.nrc.gov/materials/uranium-recovery.html

    State level bureaucrats want to add their own levels of regulation on top of the Federal simply to justify their salaries, and their commission’s existence.

    Leave it up to the localities to decide if they want to permit the work. Let the state mining agencies inspect the work with respect to Federal guidelines (I can understand anyone being skittish of leaving safety up to the Feds after Upper Big Branch), and fine mining companies that don’t meet safety and environmental standards.

    This has all become far more complicated than it needs to be.

  4. Oh, yeah. Let’s do what the Japanese do. They should be our model. Their economy is doing so well.

    And as I recall, the North Anna plant took the earthquake surprisingly well with no releases, no damage that could not be repaired.

  5. If this was a baseball game it is the bottom of the 9th and the bases are loaded. The people of Virginia are up to bat with 2 outs. To this point in the game the uranium industry (VUI ) is throwing nothing but “curves” and “spit balls”. The “umpires” (the State government) forgot its glasses, most likely on purpose and the likelihood of the Virginian people winning this game are slim and none. The “umpires” have made many “bad calls” in the game to this point. There are several problems with this “baseball game”. Seems to be lacking “vocal fans” Virginia citizens who could change the outcome of this game. The problem is VUI met and courted the umpires before the game began. It was decided during these secret meetings how to win the game, how to make it look like the game is not rigged, how the umpires can change the rules of the game so that the VUI team and the umpires can make huge amounts of money. VUI team is very smart and calculating. VUI doesn’t want to rile the fans because the fans could really stop the process if they pushed the umpires to do VUI would rather play this game behind closed doors with little or no fan involvement. They presented the umpires with free trips to Europe, gifts and money. In this game they left nothing to chance. They promised boat loads of money to the umpires association (state government) if they are allowed to win this game. The winner gets to build a new “stadium” (uranium mining/milling Coles Hill). The problem with “stadium” is the location which has too many “streets” leading to prime residential areas (over 1 million citizens water supply), and the toxic material (radioactive tailings) buried under the new “stadium”. The “stadium” must withstand environmental challenges, earthquakes, hurricanes, extreme rain events that no other “stadium” in the world is built to. The VUI team said no worry we have lots of money and can “spin” any negative argument to make it look good to the few vocal fans who don’t know the game. We will buy experts to conduct studies and pay others to say that the “stadium” will be safe for thousands of years and of course we must tell the “baseball fans” (Virginians) that this will be a “state of the art stadium”. No sense in telling the “baseball fans” that we really don’t know what the effects on the players or the fans or those who live near the stadium. No sense telling the baseball fans that should there be damage or an accident in or under the stadium or its buried toxic waste that all of the streets (lakes, rivers, streams, creeks, wells that empty into Lake Gaston) could be contaminated for years which over a million baseball fans depend on those streets.

    No doubt this is far fetched but uranium mining issue will pass in the state if the “fans” remain apathetic to the issue. That apathy allows Richmond to play the game of politics and the mining issue will become an reality in Virginia. I don’t belong to any environmental organizations or fringe groups. I am not against nuclear energy or uranium mining. I am not afraid of nuclear energy as I have worked in Naval nuclear facilities for many years I just think that the Coles Hill location is wrong. VUI guarantees for safely storing tailing for 1000 of years is not accurate. The manufactures of the liners and studies by the NRC beyond 100 years is unknown. Uranium mining related health issues cannot be guaranteed against. Yes, regulations will attempt to keep the uranium workers safe but no long term study has been done. VUI cannot name any health studies that show uranium mining is safe because there haven’t been a single repeatable scientific human study on uranium miners, their families, their children, their unborn children, the areas around the mines, those that drink from contaminated water. The problem with any type of uranium mining health issues are the insidious nature that takes 20-30 years or more to show ill effects. Yes there are several outdated health studies from the 50-70’s that show all sorts of health issues. Are the uranium worker groups identified above going to have increased health related issues? We won’t know until after 2040 or later. To say that uranium mining has no health issue and is safe is not accurate.

    Uranium mining at Coles Hill may be safe for many years and then again;

    I think my dad’s advice about the importance of location can be described in a saying that I often heard growing up,

    “Build an “outhouse” upstream and you will eventually be eating S***!

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