Oh, these are fighting words: "The problem is a Virginia law, largely the handiwork of environmentalists and some of the Coles’ frightened neighbours, which prohibits uranium mining anywhere in the state. " My rage at this statement, this article, and the whole pro-mining mindset is simply indescribable!
Apr 16th 2009 | RICHMOND
Plenty of uranium lies in the Piedmont. That’s where many think it should stay.
THIRTY years after America’s worst atomic accident at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania, and 330 miles (530km) away in the rural Piedmont region of Virginia, a retired army officer-turned-diplomat wants to kick-start the country’s nuclear industry—in his own front yard.
Walter Coles and his son (also Walter), backed with $25m from a clutch of unidentified local investors, Canadian energy firms, hedge funds and equity shops, propose to mine the largest untapped lode of uranium in the United States. The problem is a Virginia law, largely the handiwork of environmentalists and some of the Coles’ frightened neighbours, which prohibits uranium mining anywhere in the state.
Bands of the radioactive ore stretch north-south along Virginia’s rolling hills. An estimated 119m pounds (54m kg) lies beneath farm and timber land that has been the Coles’ family seat since the 1700s. Even with spot prices down to $40 a pound, from $136 in June 2007, the uranium is worth billions.
Profit is one inducement; so are friendly murmurings from the Obama White House about expanded nuclear power. By May the Department of Energy is expected to announce $18.5 billion in loan guarantees for two or three new reactors.
The Virginia uranium that might power those plants and America’s 104 existing civilian reactors is off-limits because of a ban enacted by the state in 1982. That was the last time a mine and mill was proposed for Pittsylvania County (named after William Pitt the Elder), a vast former tobacco-and-textile area above the Virginia-North Carolina border.
The Coles, father and son, are campaigning to have the moratorium lifted. At least $7,000 has been contributed to state lawmakers, and more could flow in Virginia’s approaching elections. Five lobbying firms are busily at work, and an online effort to enlist support is under way.
The mine—an idea that is at least five years from becoming reality, says the elder Mr Coles—could generate 300-500 jobs in a region where unemployment is high. Danville, the area’s biggest city, had a jobless rate in January of 16.8%. Opponents retort that the latest figures from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that only 500 people are employed in uranium mining and milling nationwide.
A uranium mine, coupled with proposed oil and gas wells 50 miles (80km) off the state’s Atlantic coast, could put Virginia—already second to California as an importer of electricity, according to the EIA—in the energy-exporting business. Besides, a boost in domestic production would make America less dependent on dodgy foreign suppliers such as Russia and Kazakhstan. In 2007 Russia alone provided 33% of the uranium consumed by America.
For the mine’s opponents, however, the stakes are too high. They dismiss the claim that new technology allows the ore to be extracted with little harm to the environment. And approximately 200 miles east of Pittsylvania County the cities of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, with a combined population approaching 700,000, fear that run-off from a mine could poison their water supply. Suddenly, the fight over uranium mining is no longer just between the Coles and their neighbours.