Plans to mine uranium in Southside Virginia did not get the boost some had been hoping for now that a 22-month-long review by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering has been released.
Far from being a rubber stamp, the independent analysis reported that there are “significant” health and environmental obstacles with the plan, which would allow mining 119 million pounds of uranium from the properties of several politically connected families near Chatham.
Among those challenges are that Virginia, which must protect the environment and the lives of mining workers, has no experience doing so and lacks regulations covering uranium mining. The study did not give a go or no-go recommendation but found that mining could occur if proper safeguards were put in place. Getting them will take much time and effort.
In other words, the uranium mining juggernaut, which has included all-expenses-paid trips to France for legislators considering ending a two-decades-long ban on such mining, just got a big, bright yellow caution light. It’s not exactly what proponents hoped for.
Even supporters started backing away from the idea. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, who wants to make Virginia “the Energy Capital of the East Coast,” seemed to mumble that uranium mining should be done safely. Virginia Energy Resources, which owns 29 percent of the mining project, put the happiest face it could on the report, stating that we now have a “roadmap” to employ the “best practices” in safety in practice in the United States and Canada. Mining opponents hailed the report as vindication of their fears.
The next step is going to be interesting. How Virginia’s business elite handles the report and the moratorium will be the determining factor in whether the ban is ended and the mining goes through.
The sad truth is that many of these people see only one side of the energy equation and are loath to consider environmental issues or even get a deeper understanding of energy itself. Instead, legitimate concerns are painted as overregulation madness by the likes of Barack Obama and his band of socialists.
For evidence, read a piece of a couple of weeks ago by Barry E. DuVal, the new president of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce who was once mayor of Newport News and a cabinet secretary under Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore. DuVal’s piece was a diatribe against the Obama administration for not including areas off Virginia’s shore for exploration and drilling. He also attacked Obama’s concerns about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would take fossil fuel energy from an oil sands project in Canada to Gulf Coast refineries. “Without a major change in direction from the White House,” DuVal wrote, Virginia won’t be able to drill offshore, expand renewable electricity sources and build nuclear power plants.
A few little problems here. First, there are no known, large deposits of oil off the Virginia coast. There may be natural gas, but nothing is certain. If you want to discuss natural gas, one thing DuVal fails to mention is that hydraulic fracking of Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania and New York has resulted in an unexpected flood of new gas. The quantity is so great that utilities are shifting to gas from coal. As far as nuclear, DuVal seems to have forgotten the August earthquake that pushed the North Anna nuclear plant to its design limits and caused a national review of just how susceptible the country’s nuclear stations are to earthquakes. As for wind, Google plans a huge wind farm just off Virginia’s coast. No mention there. As for the Keystone pipeline, the petroleum is exceptionally dirty. The pipeline will result in zero jobs in Virginia, which you can see if you bother to look at a map.
And lastly, for the first time in decades, the United States has become a net exporter of energy. This is all happening without Bob McDonnell’s fantasy of the Virginia becoming the “Energy Capital of the East Coast.” The Old Dominion is a huge shipping port for coal exports, but it involves coking coal for steel for skyscrapers in Shanghai and Mumbai and has nothing to do with energy.
So, given the level of understanding of the energy outlook, it will come as no surprise if this crowd still pushes for an end to the moratorium on uranium mining and pressing on without substantive regulations. We hate regulations. We’re Virginians. In any event, it’s all Barack Obama’s fault.