Cross posted from Article XI
Not far beneath the surface of a relatively small patch of land in Pittsylvania County in southern Virginia lies the front line over a battle for Virginia’s future and its sense of identity. Searching Virginia’s past, back as far as the first days of the Jamestown settlement, Virginian’s found ways to live in relative harmony with their environment. They respected the natural world and in later periods numerous Virginia landowners would become rich from the soils of Virginia. The Founding Fathers, landowners whose wealth was owed primarily to rich tobacco crops, repeatedly stressed “mans” relationship to nature.
But the years, it seems, have swept away any vestiges of that symbiotic relationship that was once an ideal of many Virginians. Today, Virginians face the real threat of uranium mining. If the ban were to be lifted, another blow to the relationship between Virginians and their natural environment would result, a consequence whose value cannot be monetized.
More and more, some Virginian’s appear to look at the natural world principally as a place to make a profit and not a symbol of what it means to be a Virginian. Making a profit through nature and revering nature are not, I should emphasize, mutually exclusive. But making a profit through nature by extracting radioactive elements from beneath the soil to be used in a nuclear reactor that produces waste with no foreseeable home for storage is, by any definition, a dispirited and unhealthy relationship.
Whether or not the uranium being pulled from the ground is as radioactive as some claim is almost beside the point. The issue of uranium mining has to do with the entire extraction, production, and waste chain. That is, to thoroughly understand the full implications of uranium mining, one has to look at the extraction process, the production process, as well as where all of the spent nuclear fuel is likely to wind up.
Despite the claims made about the safety of this process, there is no certainty in any affair in life. The example of Fukushima is a tragic picture of what overconfidence can result in when we deal with such powerful substances like nuclear energy. There are risks and not all of them are satisfactorily minimized for a host of different reasons.
The issue of uranium mining is truly an issue of mining for Virginia’s soul. Instead of investing more profoundly in advanced energy technologies and looking towards the future, we continue to invest “in the moment,” breaking our bonds with nature while ultimately hurting human individuals in the process. I am fully aware of the difficult choices we have to make on the energy policy front. But we are making energy choices off the cuff, without an eye towards the long-term, without an eye towards the safety of Virginians, without an eye towards how much we truly value the environment. Today it is uranium in Pittsylvania, tomorrow it is another energy resource somewhere else in Virginia. What will the consequences be and how will we think of ourselves when we call ourselves Virginians?