Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Uranium Mining is Yesterday's Technology

We're often impressed with the quality of anti-mining Letters and Guest Editorials in the Chatham Star-Tribune. Most of them are well-considered and thought-provoking. This one is particularly interesting in that it applies a different sensibility...that of a seasoned traveler.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009 9:42 AM EDT

There is nothing like a quick trip to Europe to give some perspectives on life in the land of Sic Semper Tyrannis.

Students in Vienna rejoice in the fact that teachers threaten to walk out over work demands; banks shake at the prospect of losing their shirts in Eastern Europe; and everywhere I go, I see nothing but windmills, solar power panels and mountain streams churning electricity for the multitudes throughout the continent's cities.

Uranium might be on the minds of us in Virginia, and especially Pittsylvania County, but it is yesterday's technology in Europe. Austria voted to shut down its nuclear power plant in 1978 and has not started one up since.

Demonstrations continue against planned nuclear power plants in the Czech Republic, and across the rolling hills of Lower Austria, outside Vienna, windmills turn slowly but surely, producing power for thousands.

Twenty years ago, Viennese scientists and politicians worked together to produce a unique heating system for public buildings throughout the city. They built a massive incinerator for the city's trash, saving precious land and heating literally hundreds of buildings in the city with the refuse of its people.

It seems that Sigmund Freud has not been the only person in that town who has been busy thinking deep dreams about the future.

Travel puts things in perspective and nothing needs perspective more than the current debate over uranium mining in Virginia. I thought about this a bit during a recent train ride from Vienna to Salzburg and came up with what I think might be a new way of looking at things.

Suppose we approach the issue in a series of questions; rather than overwhelming our opponents and embarrassing our friends. Let's take a moment to consider these issues.

First of all, there is the "Strategic" question.

Uranium in Virginia will be a strategic necessity we are told; our future security demands a uranium mine in Pittsylvania County.

Now we hear that the company that would mine uranium is a fully-owned foreign company (VUI) with just a few local investors.

How does uranium mined by a foreign company contribute to the security of the United States?

Are we more secure by depending upon foreign agents for our energy needs? Does paying the Saudis for oil strengthen us as a nation?

Will paying Canadians for our uranium make us equally secure? The absurdity of this argument in light of the true origins of VUI is clear. Let's move on to question two.

Then we have the "Prosperity" question.

We are told that uranium mining in the county will bring us untold wealth and prosperity.

This is a fine argument for a nation currently in the grips of a near-depression. Alas, it, too, seems rather odd.

A century ago, the people of this area were told that textiles would bring untold prosperity. Dan River Mills kept other industries (and highways) out of the area for just this reason.

It is 2009 and Dan River Mills is nowhere to be seen (unless one travels to India) and the unemployment rate of the county is higher than average.

Tobacco was to be our savior and look at that industry now. In fact, hardly any Virginians at all are employed pulling tobacco in our fields. We import workers from over the border (and I do not mean North Carolina) to harvest what little crop the industry has left us.

Should a uranium mine come to this area, it, too, will monopolize our economy.

So, who will work there and what will that "prosperity" look like? As work in a mine is not exactly a career, but more like a job, my guess is that most of the workers will come from the same place we get our tobacco workers.

Watch out, Don Merricks, your campaign issues can come back to haunt you.

Here's another thought. If uranium mining brings us such wonderful prosperity, why is legislation in the works to limit mining to this county, when considerable deposits have been located in other counties such as Orange and Fauquier?

Should not all Virginians have a share of this prosperity and not merely Pittsylvania County?

Or could it be that our friends in those more fashionable areas realize the value of their land, air, water and way of life. They are perfectly content to allow us (and to legislate us) alone to share in the "wealth" that mining will bring.

There is always the "Political" question.

It is clear to all that Pittsylvania County is a conservative area politically. Politicians run regularly on the platform that they do not believe in big government and sending them to Richmond or Washington will work to stem the tide of bureaucracy in all our lives.

Each individual should be free to lead his or her life unencumbered by the watchful eye of Big Brother. Yet, these same politicians are on the edge of, if not already, advocating for the presence of uranium mining in Pittsylvania County.

Do they not realize that the imposition of this industry upon this county will automatically send out a swarm of bureaucrats to check our every breath, our every sip of water and our ever spade of topsoil?

Who will be safe from the regulation enforcement of this most heavily regulated of industries? And who will pay for the salaries of these officials?

My guess is that the taxpayers will pay for this army of government workers in the form of higher taxes. Taxpayers: that means you and I will pay to enforce the regulating of an industry that neither you nor I will prosper from (unless you are one of the few investors who actually LIVE in Virginia).

Finally, of course, there is the "Future" question.

Those who oppose uranium mining in Virginia are often called folks without a vision for the future. They are stuck hopelessly in a past that can never move out of its hippy-like dream of pastoral bliss.

Truly, nuclear power and its fellow traveler, uranium mining, is the look of the future. And it "is" the look of the future, if your future looks like 1970.

The nuclear power industry is always one accident away from extinction. We were lucky at Three Mile Island in 1979. The Russians were not so lucky at Chernobyl in 1986. Who is to say how our luck will run the next time.

Although he did allocate money for nuclear power development in the present budget, President Obama has placed far greater emphasis upon wind, solar and water power.

That is the true look of the future, and if our county were to live up to the meaning of that word, future, Mr. Coles and his Canadian cohorts would be filling their fields out in Sheva with the kind of windmills I saw generating power outside of Vienna.

They would not have plans to dig a large, open-pit wasteland as a memorial to their myopic vision of a world hopelessly mired in the past.

What about the "Environmental" question?

I left this one out on purpose. It is far too complex and delicate to treat here.

Needless to say it IS the question that worries us most and seems to be the one that is least answered in a satisfactory way from either side.

On this issue, we have no answer, we have only a very worrisome and permanent question that, should uranium mining find its way to Pittsylvania County, very many folks, here and as far away as Virginia Beach, will spend a great many years and tears worrying about.

The decision about uranium mining is one that will permanently change the face of this county and this Commonwealth.

It will touch citizens in every aspect of their lives. It will affect their health, their economic well-being, their property and their happiness.

Our politicians are charged with important decisions. If they miss this one, not only should their decision be in question, but the very nature of their ability to serve their constituents wisely and represent their interests fairly will be placed in doubt.

The minimum they can expect is to face defeat in the next election.

Like I said, travel broadens the mind. It also gives one time to think about things at home.

No one whom I met abroad could believe that Virginia was about to take this step...backwards as it were... if the Commonwealth approves uranium mining in Pittsylvania County.

It was as if I had said we were considering the establishment of livery stables and the production of horse shoes. As they say in German: other countries, other customs...

Richard Dixon


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