Lt. Gov. Bolling swung though Pittsylvania County on Friday, 14 December, to announce his opposition to lifting the "ban" on uranium mining at the Cole's Hill property. Sadly, he seems to be more concerned with the myths and fears surrounding uranium than he is in the facts:
...even though two well respected organizations have completed reviews of the efficacy of removing the ban on uranium mining and milling, I believe there are still too many unanswered questions regarding the potential impact that an incident at the mine might have on the environment and, subsequently, citizens in Southern Virginia and beyond. Given these legitimate environmental concerns, I believe the ban on uranium mining should remain in place.
In a statement, Virginia Uranium complained that Bolling has refused its invitation to tour the so-called Coles Hill site of the uranium deposit and attempts to brief him on the scientific and technical aspects of its mining and milling plan.
"We took Lt. Gov. Bolling at his word when he claimed to support the expansion of Virginia's nuclear power sector and an 'all of the above' approach to energy policy," Patrick Wales, the company's project manager, said in a statement. He added that Bolling is "clearly pursuing a 'some of the above' energy policy that is the antithesis of free enterprise and free markets."
While this doesn't really surprise me, considering Bolling's political implosion over the past few weeks, I do find it very irritating that Bolling seems willing to sacrifice the economy of Pittsylvania to draw some thin support for the sinking possibility of a "possible" independent run for Governor.
Sadly, as Jim Hoeft notes over on Bearing Drift, this also indicates an incredible lack of leadership, as well as quite a bit of hypocrisy on Bolling's part. The website for his gubenatorial run (and here's a screenshot, in case the site is taken down) clearly states Bolling's support of nuclear energy:
Governor McDonnell and Lieutenant Governor Bolling believe in an “all of the above“ approach to energy policy. They strongly support the expansion of traditional forms of energy, such as coal, natural gas and nuclear power; but they also support expanding renewable forms of energy in Virginia, such as wind, solar and biofuels.
Well, Mr. Bolling, nuclear energy requires fuel - and at the moment, we IMPORT most of the fuel for our nuclear energy plants. Many of the countries which supply uranium have governments which are unstable or hostile to the United States, which would, of course, jeopardize our supply if something untoward should happen to these governments. Have we not had - do we not continue to have - for this reason, the debate about using our own resources for oil and gas?
The National Academy of Science report (summary downloadable as a .pdf here, full report available here) is one of the reviews to which Bolling referred. The report is quite dense, and neither I nor Mr. Bolling are qualified scientists on this subject, so let's see what one of the panel's members has to say in summary.
Virginia legislators and residents should keep in mind that much of the NAS report focused on the impacts of uranium-mining practices dating back to the 1950s, '60s and '70s, long before any of today's strict regulations were put in place or modern industry practices were adopted.
Fifty years ago, we had neither the technology nor the understanding about the effects of radiation to mine uranium safely. That is not the case today. The NAS report affirms that and provides a "starting point" for Virginia by identifying internationally accepted best practices and regulatory standards for uranium mining.
Uranium is mined safely with minimal environmental impacts throughout the world. Studies conducted by leading epidemiologists demonstrate that today's uranium workers and the public living near modern uranium mines are as healthy as the general population.
Consider that about one-fifth of the world's uranium is mined in nearby Canada, largely in Saskatchewan. Since a government study panel concluded in the 1990s that the environmental impacts of uranium mining could be minimized, the Saskatchewan government has fully embraced the industry and still boasts an enviable record of environmental stewardship.
Today the uranium-mining industry there supports thousands of high-paying jobs and is rigorously regulated by the provincial and federal governments. Virginia would be well served to draw upon the Saskatchewan experience. [emph. mine]
Dr. Anderson rightly reminds us in this op/ed that he is speaking as a private citizen, and not as a representative from the NAS panel, but is remarks should be taken seriously. Technology has made tremendous strides since the moratorium on uranium mining, and the NAS report, while carefully examining the problems associated with uranium mining and acknowledging the difficulties associated with it, mainly concludes that is can be done - assuming proper regulation and oversight is in place.
(As an aside, please remember that "ban" is actually incorrect, while "moratorium" is more accurate. The relevant portion of the Virginia code states
§ 45.1-283. Uranium mining permit applications; when accepted; uranium mining deemed to have significant effect on surface.
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, permit applications for uranium mining shall not be accepted by any agency of the Commonwealth prior to July 1, 1984, and until a program for permitting uranium mining is established by statute. For the purpose of construing § 45.1-180 (a), uranium mining shall be deemed to have a significant effect on the surface. [emph added]
So there is no "ban," as such; rather, no mining may be done until proper statutes are drawn up for regulating uranium mining.)
I have met with several people at Virginia Uranium; they all seem quite above-board and truly interested in the economic health and future of Pittsylvania County. Now, certainly I can be fooled - we can all be fooled at one time or another - but if these men and women are truly the nefarious reprobates intent on destroying the culture and environment of our county (as the anti-uranium folks are wont to picture them), then why are they all so willing and eager to be subject to the regulations Virginia would have to enact? Why are they so willing to dig in and hold on to their ownership, when it would be far easier to sell out and let one of the big companies shoulder the headaches that crafting, editing, and passing the regulations - and then the whole, nightmareish process of actually getting permitted under those regulations! - entails?
Heck, if it were me, I'd be sitting on a beach somewhere, sipping mai tais rather than attempting to inform people of the FACTS about uranium and slamming my head against the brick wall of people who just don't care about facts!
One of the most common myths I've heard promulgated is that, appaerntly, Virginia has a climate that is wet with lots of rainfall, and is thus utterly unique in all the world, so mining couldn't possibly be done safely here. (Yeah, tell that to the farmers who are currently lacking about 16 inches of rainfall this year...)
Uh-huh. Well, it seems to me that Canadian mines seem to be doing quite well. Rabbit Lake (Cameco) is practically surrounded by water, plus it has to deal with snow and snowmelt far greater than anything we'll ever see (oh, and it's won several safety trophies, too!). Or take a look at AREVA's operations in France (which, by the way, is not at all an arid country). Cleanup and proper shut down of old mines is extremely important in protecting the environment, of course. Note that AREVA is very concerned with complying with regulations set up by the French government!
Oh, did you mean that Virginia has no experience with this "wet climate" mining? How about I refer you back to Dr. Anderson?
The report emphasized the effectiveness of runoff and wastewater collection systems, as well as buffer zones and groundwater monitoring wells surrounding the site to detect the slightest elevations in contaminant levels and prevent contaminated water from escaping the site.
Virginia does not have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to uranium mining and milling. It can draw from the international best practices reported in the NAS study as well as borrow from effective regulatory regimes established in other states and countries.
We do not live in a vacuum, people. We do not live in the 1970's or 80's. We live in 2012 (soon to be 2013), and in an area where we have the chance to help supply America's energy needs. We have a chance to be part of it - and whether we go ahead and use this resource or not, let's make the decision with our brains and not our emotions!
The second report Bolling may have referred to could have been either the Chmura report or the George Mason study (links go to .pdfs). The summary at the beginning of the GM study (pp. 2-5) reviewed the circumstances of Pittsylvania County and also examined the impact of existing mines in communities in Texas, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. It concluded:
- The fiscal impact analysis of the proposed mine and mill on Pittsylvania County found a substantial net fiscal benefit for the County.
- The regional housing market analysis found that economic and demographic factors have the greatest impact on housing sales and values with recent housing trends showing gains from the 2008-09 recession.
- Spending from the uranium mine and mill construction and operation would also be expected to increase demand for housing in the County.
- The analysis of how uranium operations have affected the economies of other counties have found that uranium has had a positive economic impact on these communities with no effect on business attraction and retention.
- The business climate analysis concluded that recent gains in the housing market and multiple business attraction successes indicate that the proposed mine and mill do not create a stigma that negatively impacts the County's economy.
When looking at other communities and reviewing recent changes in the housing and business sectors, the George Mason report indicates that this would be a definite positive for Pittsylvania. I would suggest you download the report and at least read the four page summary at the beginning.
A look at the Chmura report's summary will quickly demonstrate that, while it appears to have a more cautious view of the possible socioeconomic stigmas many citizens are concerned about, overall the mine will have a positive impact on the county. Of the four scenarios Chumra looks at, only one - the one where current federal standards on uranium mining are not met - has no positive impact at all.
Chmura is also quite blunt about the fact that the local community is very skeptical about whether federal or state regulation would, in fact, be able to keep the mine operating within safe environmental standards. The report puts forth a suggestion
... that several steps could be taken to mitigate some of this skepticism and bolster the public’s confidence in VUI as well as in state and federal regulatory agencies. These steps include the signing of an “Impact-Benefit Agreement” between VUI and Pittsylvania County, the establishment of permanent Environmental Quality Committees, and the utilization of “adaptive management” practices by VUI. [page 10]
You see? Yes, there are problems associated with the uranium mine - there are problems associated with any type of heavy industry like this - but they are not insurmountable. If we step back and look at the facts with our BRAINS, and do not succumb to emotional impulses based on myth and fear, uranium mining could be a positive development for us all.
America has historically been a place where people dare to do great things and reach out to better themselves and their communities. Of course we have failed at times; that's part of life. However, failure is only an opportunity to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and learn from your mistakes so you can make it succeed the next time you try.
Does uranium mining have the possibility of failure? Of course it does! However, when you step back, look at the facts, and evaluate them carefully with your intellect rather than your fears, I believe that the chances of success far outweigh the chances for failure.