Last month I asked a simple, market-based question about the rush to develop a uranium mine in Pittsylvania County. Why the rush when much of the world is questioning whether to invest further in an energy technology so fraught with the possibility of catastrophic accidents? Where will the market be for that additional uranium production? I noted then that Italy is extending its moratorium on nuclear plants, Germany is phasing out all of its plants. Even China has suspended its plans to build 28 new nuclear reactors. Now, there’s yet another big question mark for nuclear power on the horizon.
In France, a country that derives over 75% of its electricity from nuclear sources, whether to phase out nuclear power has become an issue in its upcoming 2012 presidential election. The conservative UMP party wants to expand nuclear power generation, while the opposition Socialist Party has called for having no new nuclear reactors, as well a national debate on transition to other forms of energy. A Reuters poll in France recently showed 75% of French respondents wanted the nation to phase out nuclear power, with only 22% favoring an increase in nuclear plants. I’ll bet my bottom dollar that the Virginia legislators who were wined and dined in Paris by their Virginia Uranium handlers weren’t told about that controversy going on in France.
If that wasn’t enough to throw the viability of more uranium mining into question, now Japan is under pressure from its population to phase out nuclear power generation after the Fukushima disaster. Besides that, there are some promising technologies that can produce clean energy on a large scale. One is thermal solar power plants that use molten salt heat storage.
BrightSource Energy Inc, Oakland CA, has announced plans to build a huge solar complex on private land in the Mohave Desert. The 500 MW facility features molten salt storage of the heat generated by tens of thousands of mirrors, or heliostats, which concentrate the sun’s rays on a tower with a water-filled boiler on top. Molten salts of sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate on the tower store the sun’s heat for hours after sundown, vastly increasing the plant’s efficiency. A similar plant already in operation in Spain has shown that it can operate 24 hours a day.
So, if I think like a bottom-line-driven capitalist (really tough for me but not impossible), I would think, “China has two of the largest deserts in the world, the Gobi and the Taklamakan Deserts. Won’t the Chinese perhaps conclude that they might be better off investing in molten salt storage solar plants, rather than nuclear plants that take more than a decade to build?” Now, that Chinese solar market would sure be worth going after if I made the equipment used in such plants.
The United States is also “blessed” with deserts. Why would we want more nuclear plants if we have available a large-scale solar technology that doesn’t emit pollution and doesn’t create waste problems? Why dig a giant pit in Pittsylvania County if there is not going to be a big increase in the demand for uranium? Do we want to take a chance on Virginia Uranium being caught in a declining industry, ultimately walking away from piles of uranium tailings and leaving us Virginians to clean up their waste?
By the way, BrightSource Energy Inc is backed by French energy giant Alstom, Morgan Stanley, Google, Chevron and NRG Energy. Those wily capitalists may know something Virginia Uranium and the boys who took that free vacation in France don’t.