Monday, September 28, 2009

Nuclear grant has more to it

VA Tech Collegiate Times

y Letter to the editor
Monday, September 28, 2009; 7:41 PM

Are there really no conflicts of interests here?

According to the article "Tech receives nuclear grant" (CT, Sept. 15), Virginia Tech is slated to "implement" the money Virginia Uranium, Inc. will pay to the National Academy of Sciences for its services in performing a research study, which is to determine if uranium mining and milling can be done safely in Virginia.

Tech's newspaper, Collegiate Times, recently featured a picture of a mushroom-shaped atomic bomb blast cloud with the title "Virginia Tech's History of Nuclear Energy" with the chronological dates of the program's inception (1953), its disbanding (1990s) and its revival (2007). Strangely included are the dates of the Three Mile Island disaster in Pennsylvania (1979) and the Chernobyl disaster in Russia (1986). It also lists the $850,000 nuclear grant money (2009) received from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The article by Liana Bayne relates the NRC nuclear grant money, $850,000, which will go toward hiring new professors to "revitalize" Tech's nuclear engineering program.

Now, I shudder to think what the school's newspaper was thinking to post such a photograph, but it should cause more than an uneasy pause for the members of the NAS governing board, which is currently deliberating whether its prestigious institution should contract with Tech to do a study when the school, as the above article states, is clearly enjoying "a taste of the nuclear renaissance."

Let's recap: VUI wants to excavate an $8 billion to $10 billion uranium ore body at Coles Hill in Chatham, Va., and is the only entity that has offered to pay for the proposed NAS study. Tech wants to revitalize its nuclear engineering program and is well on track in doing so by receiving nuclear grant money ($850,000) from the NRC. (This is on top of a $300,000 grant it received last year for this program.) Tech will utilize VUI's north and south mines at Coles Hill, and its milling facility, as field laboratories for its students, which will be part of the curriculum of the nuclear engineering program. (In the past, Tech graduate students have already been on the site doing various studies on the un-mined uranium ore body at Coles Hill.) Tech will be the conduit to "implement" the estimated $1.2 million to $1.4 million VUI plans to pay NAS for doing the research study - a study it needs in order to overturn Virginia's moratorium on the mining and milling of uranium.

I have to ask, are there really no conflicts of interest here? And what does a mushroom-shaped atomic bomb blast cloud have to do with Tech's revival of its nuclear engineering program? Will NAS disregard the obvious connection between the revival of Tech's nuclear engineering program and its role to "implement" the money VUI will pay the NAS to do a research study?

Does NAS have blinders on?

Anne Cocknell [sic]
Danville, Va.

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