Whatever Happened to Virginia Uranium?

Uranium mapBy Peter Galuszka

A big effort to mine uranium in Southside Virginia seemed stymied when the General Assembly failed to end a moratorium on such activity in the last General Assembly.

It would seem that exploiting a large deposit of ore in Pittsylvania County by a wealthy local family and some obscure Canadian investors had fallen away.

Two developments underline the uncertainty of the venture, which has been wrought with political turmoil involving expenses-paid trips for legislators to Paris and allies of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell making late night phone calls to twist local arms for the project.

First, Virginia Uranium keeps giving donations. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, the firm has given $53,500 to state politicians this year. It is part of a whopping $324,650 in donations the firm has given since it ramped up in 2008.

The other noteworthy item is a story in today’s Wall street Journal that paints a very bad picture for the future of nuclear power. Uranium prices are at their lowest levels in eight years, trading at about $34 a pound Tuesday. For the Virginia project to work, they have to be well above $65 a pound.

What’s more, the Journal says, the market for the fuel hasn’t recovered since the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, which is still causing trouble. In the U.S., cheap and plentiful shale gas from fracking has priced nukes out. Germany is shutting its off by 2022 and even nuke-happy France plans on reducing its nuke load from 80 to 50 percent.

So, one might ask, why is Virginia Uranium still doling out dough?

5 Responses to Whatever Happened to Virginia Uranium?

  1. Gee, Peter, are you sure that companies only donate to campaigns when they want something? How could you reach that conclusion?

    The market price of uranium is a problem. Hysterical fear of all things nuclear is the bigger problem.

    With regard to the price, watch what happens when 1) a carbon tax is imposed on carbon-based fuels and/or 2) even more strenuous emissions standard have the same effect of driving up the final user price of carbon burning plants. Those tip the scale in favor of nuclear on the cost front, and people who think wind can be a base load generator are fools. So I expect all of you anti-nuke fanatics to be equally opposed to a carbon tax. I can count on that, right?

    The uranium isn’t going anywhere (and will continue providing lots of background radiation that the Luddites don’t seem to understand is already there) so some future generation of the Coles family might still be able to cash in. I can envision a national emergency where the US Government decides it needs that uranium and then Katie bar the door trying to prevent mining.

  2. So I am an anti-nuke fanatic?. Did I cause Fukushima and did I drop global uranium prices? Did I force the Germans to plan to drop nuclear power?

    SInce you are such an expert,Breckinridge, perhaps you know that about half of the nuclear used by commercial reactors in the U.S. comes from recycled nuclear material from old Soviet and U.S. bombs. The planned renaissance for new reactors just hasn’t happened.

    Carbon tax? What does that have to do with nukes? It may be expensive, but do you have any idea how many billions the U.S. government has put into commercial nuclear over the decades? Do you realize how many billions Washington is going to have to put up in loan guarantees to get any sane banker to loan money?

    But what do I know? I am a “fanatic.” You really should avoid these ad hominem attacks. Not that I care but I may start asking why I waste me time on this blog and people like you.For no compensation, by the way….

  3. I do indeed realize how much current fuel is reprocessed and the failure of the United States to fully utilize the spent fuel from existing reactors (which we insanely continue to store at the plant sites to keep Harry Reid’s constituents happy) is an economic tragedy. And yes, more reprocessing would mean less value for the Pittsylvania uranium deposit — another example where the anti-nuke movement is working against itself. It should support reprocessing if it wants to prevent more mining.

    The power companies making their plans for new plants look at the all-in costs of building and operating them, and imposing a carbon tax on coal and natural gas makes those plants relatively more expensive to ratepayers and therefore make the nuclear plants relatively more attractive. Pretty simple, really, why a carbon tax or strict CO2 emission limits would drive the industry to take a harder look at nuclear. The most recent Energy Information Administration data I’ve seen shows the all-in cost of a nuke plant ($108 per MWH) as well below the cost of the most advanced cleaner coal ($123 per MWH) or solar ($144 per MWH). And that’s without a carbon tax. EIA doesn’t even have a number on offshore wind, which is going to cost far more.

    • In fairness I should add that EIA puts the cost of onshore wind at $87 per MWH, but that is not dispatchable and the capacity factor is about 34 percent. The winner is combined cycle turbines burning natural gas, at $67 per MWH and that is why all the new plants will be natural gas for a while.

  4. well here’s a truth model:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_islands_by_area

    four tasks here:

    1. – skip down to 19th in rank so you get past all the really large islands like Great Britain

    2. – then scan down the list of the rest of the major islands in the world and identify the ones that have nukes

    3. – then for the ones that do not have nukes – determine if they have native fossil fuels and do not have to import them

    4. finally, determine what fuels they actually use and the average cost per KWH.

    My conclusion after doing the above is that Nukes are not as cost effective as even importing and burning bunker oil – at 40-50 cents kwh.

    so why is that if they are supposed to be cost-effective and competitive with other fuels?

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