Friday, February 1, 2013

Uranium Mining Advocates in Virginia Claim They Can Do So Safely

But If Not, That's Okay, the Horrible Cost to the Environment Just Falls on Other People

[Update:  The bill authorizing mining has been pulled from consideration.  The issue is dead, at least at this time.  But with this much money involved this issue will never be truly deceased.]

In the middle of Virginia between Lynchburg and Danville is a large uranium deposit.  The people who own the land want the right to mine if, and to do so they need to change Virginia’s laws against uranium mining. 

Of course the proponents don’t mention the huge financial gains they would make, they argue that they are doing this for the good of the country and the economy.

Chatham, Virginia
A Nice Place to Make Into a
Radioactive Dump
Bills introduced last week would lift a moratorium on uranium mining at the site here, known as Coles Hill. Political supporters say that the mining would bring economic benefits and that risks from radioactive wastes, or tailings, can be safely managed. 

The tactics of the supporters of lifting the ban are right out of American politics 101.  Buy influence.

To influence lawmakers, Virginia Uranium has poured more than $600,000 into campaign contributions and lobbying since 2008, according to public records. For the current 45-day legislative session in Richmond, it has retained 20 lobbyists. . . .

In 2010 and 2011, Virginia Uranium paid $122,000 total to fly about two dozen members of the General Assembly to France to visit a tailings storage site, which critics quickly labeled a junket. The sponsor of the Senate bill that would lift the uranium ban, John C. Watkins, was among those traveling.

The opposition has a pretty strong case, that the environmental risks are huge and the result of mining could be highly destructive.

A National Academy of Sciences report in 2011 stopped the momentum in last year’s General Assembly for lifting the ban, imposed three decades earlier in the wake of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant accident. The report warned of “steep hurdles” to safe mining and “significant human health” dangers if a capped tailings pile leaks because of the state’s “frequent storms.”

And surprisingly the politics do not divide along party lines.  Here is a leading Democrat spouting an “I don’t care” message.

A prominent supporter is the minority leader of the State Senate, Richard L. Saslaw, a Democrat, who lives in the northern suburbs. Asked about buried uranium tailings that remain a risk for hundreds of years, Mr. Saslaw, who is known for unguarded statements, said in a radio interview, “I’m not going to be here.”

which is of course the sentiment of all those who hate protecting the environment from their own greedy clutches.  A Republican has a different take.

Delegate James E. Edmunds II, a Republican, said that in the event that radiation leaked into the groundwater, his district would be one of the first affected. “There’s no waiting for a big rain to clean it up,” he said. “I’m not going to have that as my legacy.”

The issue has turned many of the region’s elected Republicans, the party of “drill, baby, drill” and property rights, into mining opponents.

Yeah, funny how pollution and environmental destruction attitudes change when it is happening in your back yard.

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