Sunday, June 13, 2021
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“Modern Mining for [Uranium] Inevitably Pollutes Water.”

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The above quote is from a story produced by the highly-regarded, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalistic organization, ProPublica.  It caught my eye because this is the exact opposite of what we are being told by the lobbyists of Virginia Uranium Inc. and the Republicans snuggled in bed with them -- for example, Sen. John Watkins, who recently said: "Uranium mining is done safely around the world, and Virginia is capable of mining it safely, too," he said.

Really?  So listen to the story of Christensen Ranch in dry-as-dust Wyoming.  It sounds a lot like the movie Gasland's story of groundwater contamination from natural gas fracking that has shocked so many:

As dry as this land may be, underground, vast reservoirs hold billions of gallons of water suitable for drinking [...] Yet every day injection wells pump more than 200,000 gallons of toxic and radioactive waste from uranium mining into Christensen's aquifers.

It gets worse:  

Uranium Working Group working its way around the people of Virginia

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In another attempt to subvert the democratic process in Virginia, Gov. McDonnell is attempting to sidestep the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences and the will of Virginians by rushing through the proposal on uranium mining and milling and shutting out stakeholders who have already accumulated expertise and information on this matter. The point of taking the decision to allow uranium mining and milling out of the hands of the legislature was to give the Uranium Working Group time to resolve some of the most serious concerns brought up by the possibility of mining and milling for uranium in Virginia.

Instead, the governor has taken the decision out of the hands of the legislature in order to circumvent the democratic process and a very uncertain future for this issue in Virginia's General Assembly.

Gov. McDonnell has continuously made two contradictory statements. The first is that his administration will pursue an "all of the above" strategy for energy, referring to any source of energy that can be extracted and used will be. Contrarily, McDonnell claims that if the energy source in question poses a known risk to human health, his administration will not pursue it.

The risks posed by uranium mining and milling are unmistakable, and even more so in a climate like Virginia's that has never witnessed uranium mining. Thus, any risk assessments undertaken must be magnified by the level of uncertainty that accompanies any assessment of a brand new situation for risk.  

National Academy of Sciences Report: “Steep Hurdles” to Uranium Mining in...

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The authoritative, respected (except by anti-science fanatics like Ken Kookinelli) National Academy of Sciences has weighed in on uranium mining in Virginia, and it's basically a bright yellow (or red) CAUTION/DANGER/WARNING sign flashed in front of our eyes. A few key points:

*"[I]f Virginia lifts its moratorium, there are 'steep hurdles to be surmounted' before mining and processing could take place within a regulatory setting that appropriately protects workers, the public, and the environment, especially given that the state has no experience regulating mining and processing of the radioactive element."
*"Should the ban be lifted, uranium mining and processing are unlikely to begin for at least five to eight years after the initial granting of a license, the report says.  This period of time should be used to build a robust regulatory and management culture focused on safety and citizen involvement."
*"[S]uch activities in Virginia would have the potential to impact water, soil, and air quality.  The degree of impact would depend on site-specific conditions, how early a contaminant release is detected by monitoring systems, and the effectiveness of mitigation steps."
*"While it is likely that tailings impoundment sites would be safe for at least 200 years if designed and built according to modern best practices, the long-term risks of radioactive contaminant release are unknown."

In sum, uranium mining in Virginia is highly questionable at best, would require a large number of steps to be taken over 5-8 years, and would still leave long-term risks that are "unknown." In other words: Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

P.S. If Virginia Uranium would just send me to France for a week or two, all expenses paid, I might just reconsider my opposition to this. (wink wink, just kidding -- obviously I'd never do that, but I'd sure love a free trip to France like they offered to all our legislators! LOL)

Regulatory Inroads into Uranium Mining

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Don't let the brilliance of this suggestion made by VA Sen. John Watkins (R-Midlothian) blow you away: the VA General Assembly may analyze VA's regulatory structure of the uranium mining industry before a decision is made to lift the "moratorium" on uranium mining. Brilliant indeed! Well Sen. Watkins, first things first. If special permits are to be granted for uranium mining operations and a strict regulatory structure is to be promulgated, the agency(s) in charge will actually need the appropriate funds and manpower to undertake these charges. In our current political environment, who in the General Assembly is willing to spend extra on these important components of a lift on VA's uranium mining moratorium? Further, how long will this budgetary largesse last?

Perhaps, instead, the General Assembly decides to shift money from other, no less important programs, to fund the regulation of uranium mining. Where will the money be taken from, children's cancer research, infrastructure upgrades, afterschool programs? The possibilities are limitless!

New Report Confirms “Pervasive” Flooding of Uranium Mining Site

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Unless you're a member of the Cole family or one of Virginia Uranium Inc's (VUI) underwriters, you've probably noticed the intense rainfall VA has received over the past two months. In line with these precipitation numbers, a report released on September 26, 2011 confirms what many Virginians have suspected: "pervasive flooding regularly occurs throughout the proposed mine and mill site at Coles Hill." Surprise, surprise, you may say. However, it doesn't appear that everyone looks at the scientific facts in the same way that those of us in the real world do.

Indeed, the study requested from the National Academy of Sciences has been seen by some Virginians as a political smokescreen that members of the General Assembly can hide behind when they cast their "Yes" vote to lift the uranium moratorium in VA. For better or for worse, though, you cannot hide behind the human and environmental effects that such a legislative move would inevitably bring to those in southern VA (and maybe elsewhere). The only problem for Virginians is that many of these "Yes" legislators will have long since left public office when the disasters strike.

Maybe members of the General Assembly and VUI will use the straw-man argument of jobs. I asked Senator Steve Martin about how many of these alleged jobs would be created and still have not heard back. This isn't a shocker. Even if there were copious numbers of jobs to fill, Virginians, on the whole, don't even have the expertise to undertake many of the more technically demanding uranium mining jobs. So what would be left by way of jobs for Virginians? More than likely the most menial, technically non-demanding jobs will be open to Virginians. Not exactly a rosy job picture. But a job is a job right? Wrong.  

Uranium Mining in VA: the Domino Effect from the south

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Cross-posted from Article XI.

According to the U2011 list of pro-uranium all-stars, our friends at Virginia Uranium Inc. will be giving their two cents on uranium, uranium mining, and uranium's future in America. One has to therefore ask, does Virginia Uranium consider itself a shoe-in for the lucrative uranium mining contract in southside Virginia if the moratorium is lifted?

In the case of uranium mining in Pittsylvania County, Virginians are not only fighting for the human and environmental health of communities and ecosystems surrounding the proposed mining sites, Virginians may also be fighting to halt uranium mining around there own communities. According to a few geologists at Virginia Tech (let me know if you want the source document), as the technology advances to find uranium mines throughout the country, it's well believed that the Piedmont area in particular may be the next uranium hot spot. That is, it's believed that there are considerable uranium deposits in the Piedmont area of Virginia. But let's set this point aside for the moment.

Even if new uranium mines are not blown open in other areas of Virginia, the recent storm events in Virginia and the unceasing precipitation should be a warning to the potential of uranium ore deposits to find its way into local aquifers. The process is safe, VUI says, but what definitive (keyword!) proof have they offered? None. At the very least, researchers have called for further studies into the possible effects of uranium millings leaking into local bodies of water.

Maybe this time, the middle and working classes will win: A...

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America for the wealthy may be the slogan for the 21st Century in the U.S. Sure, maybe the history of the US reveals a not too dissimilar narrative. But Americans, since the end of World War 2, had come to expect a growing standard of living relative to their parents and a chance to reside within the now seemingly elusive middle class.  Most disconcerting perhaps is that there seems to be no clear champion of the middle and working class of America at present.

Instead, our libertarian friends, the majority of which are far from socioeconomically destitute, call for a rollback on "big government" alongside their conservative friends. The conservatives themselves add a strongly moralistic flavor to their calls for "starving the beast," a call which continuously contradicts itself by expansive military spending and Fortune 500 tax loopholes. The Democratic Party, the purported bulwark of the middle and working classes of America, appears more convinced that a "move towards the middle," and consequently away from middle class principles, is the light at the end of the tunnel of their political future.  

Senator Martin’s Silence on Uranium Mining Says it All

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It's been two weeks now since I asked Senator Steve Martin (Republican) the following question in an email:

Senator Martin,

Thank you for your response.

I was hoping, since this is such a serious issue, you could provide me with evidence to support your claim that uranium mining in Virginia will be done safely?

Also, how many jobs are supposed to be added in Virginia if the moratorium on uranium mining is lifted? What are the actual numbers?

The email is as straight forward as it comes. Yet, I've received no response and therefore no evidence regarding the "safety" of uranium mining in Virginia or the number of jobs that would be created in Virginia were uranium mining to take place.

Senator Martin, who exactly are you representing? It certainly isn't the "average" Virginian.  

Uranium Mining Letter from VA Senator Steve Martin

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Here's a letter from Virginia Senator Steve Martin. Apparently, those opposed to uranium mining have a "shallow" understanding of the safety issues involved.  I feel much more enlightened now.

From: "senate district11"
district11@senate.virginia.gov

Thank you for sharing your concern about paid travel and uranium mining in Virginia. I see these as two different issues, though it may be that the particular company you referenced is funding some travel.

I was not aware of this scheduled trip and was not offered an opportunity to go. But, I will check into it. Any such trips will need to be reported on the individual legislators' statements of economic interest. Such "fact finding trips" sometimes do not accrue to the funder's benefit due to the integrity and exercise of independent judgment by the respective legislators. But, you are right: accepting such travel opportunities does not look good.

As for the issue of uranium mining itself, I have researched it thoroughly and am fully aware of the site design and water flow issues. I am knowledgeable of the precautions that ensure there is no contamination. I understand why the mere thought of radiation risk would raise fear but, that is really born out of a fairly shallow understanding of the issue.

As this issue comes before me, I will be supporting the opportunity for uranium mining in Virginia. It will be done safely and put many people to work in an area that needs the job opportunities.

Again, thank you for sharing your concern. I will check into the travel issue you have raised. Feel free to continue to share your concern on any topic of interest to you, and please do not hesitate to call or write to my office at any time.

Sincerely,

Steve Martin