The Uranium Fix Is In

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    It matters little, if at all, whether citizens of Virginia are either for or against uranium mining in Pittsylvania County. The study currently underway by the National Academy of Sciences is also meaningless in terms of affecting the decision on lifting the moratorium on uranium mining in the state. Citizens who show up at public hearings and object to the possible mine will be heard politely and then disregarded. So, what does matter? Well, just follow the money.

    The families that own the land containing uranium in Pittsylvania County set up a limited-liability company called Virginia Uranium, which then merged in 2009 with Santoy Resources Ltd. to form Virginia Energy Resources Inc, headquartered in British Columbia, Canada. The stock of the resulting company is still a penny stock, currently trading for about 18 cents a share; however, if investors get an OK to mine uranium in Virginia, that will change completely. The question for the principals is how to get rid of that pesky ban on uranium mining.  Nothing being done on that front has to do with actually finding out if mining can proceed safely, given our climate and topography.

    The National Academy of Sciences study of uranium mining in Virginia was rigged from the start to avoid allowing it to make actionable recommendations. It’s paid for by Virginia Energy Resources, with funding funneled through Virginia Tech because the NAS frowns upon taking money from for-profit entities. So, the money is laundered through a non-profit university. The function of the study explicitly is not to attempt to answer whether mining can be safely undertaken in Virginia or not. It is just a literature review and study of mining in other parts of the world. The parameters of the study state that “the study will not make recommendations about whether or not uranium mining should be permitted nor will the study include site-specific assessments.”

    So, what good is that study? It sure must be excellent for public relations (CYA for legislators) since Virginia Uranium spent over $100,000 unsuccessfully in 2008 to have the study approved. Then, it turned to the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission, whose members are appointed by the legislative leaders and the governor. That worked just fine. The commission dutifully appointed a subcommittee and the uranium company put up the money to pay for the “study.”

    Next, let’s look at how Virginia Energy Resources is doubling down to guarantee itself a positive vote in the next General Assembly.

    While there are uranium mines all over the United States and Canada that Virginia legislators could have visited to learn about the pluses and minuses of mining, they were instead invited by Virginia Energy Resources on a four-day junket to France, where they will spend far more time enjoying their free vacation in Paris than they will in looking at a uranium mine. By the way, it is a given that each and every one of the legislators on that junket will swear that the trip will have absolutely no effect on their vote.

    When Walter Coles first set up his company for uranium mining, he stated that its roots were in Virginia, implying that the investors were just local good ole boys. The merger with Canadian Santoy ended that myth, but help is on the way. According to Jeff Schapiro at the Times-Dispatch, more than twenty high-income Virginians, “who would be known to the General Assembly” (i.e., big contributors to campaigns), are investing in Virginia Energy Resources to give it a more local face.

    All of these moves adds up to just one thing. Regardless of your personal position on nuclear power and uranium mining, regardless of the science on uranium mining in Virginia, the decision will be made the same way most political decisions are. The people with the influence and the money almost invariably get what they want. And, the Supreme Court helped that system along this week with their decision rejecting the portion of Arizona’s public financing law that tried to level the money playing field for rich vs non-rich political opponents.

    This situation is nothing new. Sadly, far too many Americans must believe that large campaign contributions, free trips disguised as “fact-finding missions,” etc., don’t affect the way our representatives vote. Either that, or we just don’t see any way out of this “Gilded Age II” style of  government.  

    • glennbear

      The NAS is not the only study being done, there are others including one funded by VA Beach since their water supply coming from Mecklenburg County would be affected.

          In addition to the expected groups opposing lifting the ban quite a few local government entities in NC and VA have passed resolutions supporting keeping the ban. Since groups such as the VA Medical Society have gone on record in favor of the ban perhaps the GA will hesitate before doing something stupid.

          I find it interesting that Robert Hurt (R-5th) was perfectly happy being an empty suit in Richmond until his father became involved with VU mining efforts and then he gained a sudden interest in federal office and unfortunately defeated Tom Perriello. It would not be surprising if he attempted to exert influence at the federal level.

         As a side note, last week a 143 lb Blue Catfish was landed from one of the lakes which will be affected by Coles Hill mining. This fish is a new VA record and is being verified by the IGFA as a probable new world record. Hopefully mining opponents can use this national story to their benefit.  

    • mrg.uva

      tidbit the other day from a member of the Sierra Club.  He told that he works for the federal reserve and routinely tours Superfund sites in Colorado – all of which are former uranium mines.  This is a horrible situation for my hometown, Danville, and for our state both environmentally AND economically.

    • kindler

      …but I would caution against pessimism even when, as in this case, there’s good reason for it.

      Sometimes the people raise enough of a ruckus that the politicians actually listen to us, at least momentarily, rather than the robber barons lining their pockets.  One example that comes to mind was when Disney’s America got canned after lots of people raised hell and put up signs reading “I-66: Disney’s parking lot?”

      I think that even though the fix is totally in, uranium is enough of a hot button issue that we have a small chance — which is all we need– to defeat this one.  It will be a long slog, but it sure as hell beats giving up — which is exactly what they want us to do.  

    • Elaine in Roanoke

      Quinnipac polling released today shows the public evenly split on the topic of uranium mining in Virginia: 41% against, 41% for, the rest clueless.