Category Archives: Nuclear power

Uranium – The Virginia Battleground

(Click the map to see where future uranium mines could be in Virgina.)

Update –
Here’s an article about last night’s meeting: Science meets passion at uranium briefing

As you may know, Va. Beach is hosting a public briefing tonight on Uranium Mining in Virginia. A surprising number of people are getting seriously involved with this issue, and not just the people of Virginia.

Uranium mining can’t begin unless the moratorium is lifted, and due to a lack of support, the vote was postponed until 2013. The corporate money and power behind the mining project is becoming more clear all the time, though it’s been framed as a FFV’s love for their community and ultimate concern for its progress. The public isn’t buying it though, and they’re passionate about keeping the ban in place. As that firestorm continues to mount, I think we could have a real People v. Profit showdown next year, and that may be just what the doctor ordered.

I hope you’ll find a way to attend the briefing tonight, but even if you can’t, read this great exposé by award-winning investigative journalist, Rose Ellen O’Connor. It’s a three-part series that started in November about lifting Virginia’s ban, but covers much more than the 30-year moratorium. She carefully includes both sides, but weaves in and out of the ‘truth or consequences’ of uranium mining, complete with horror stories, lies, politics, corruption and misinformation. Each one is a prize, so if you’re interested in the prospects of mining and milling uranium in Virginia, I recommend reading all three for the nitty-gritty.

Uranium Mining – The Virginia Battleground – Environmental Concerns vs. Corporate Interests Part One
Just a taste:

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Marline, the Canadian firm that failed to win approval for mining from the Virginia General Assembly before the market tanked in 1985, had workers crisscross the state with Geiger counters, hopping out of their cars when an area seemed promising. Marline bought up leases on 16,000 uranium-rich acres in Fauquier, Madison, Culpeper and Orange counties, which have since expired. Opponents of lifting the moratorium say they fear that Virginia Uranium will seek to mine the sites that Marline found and that the state will be overrun by uranium mines.

Virginia Uranium executives insist publicly that they have no interest in other mines.

“We’ve made it clear we’re only interested in Coles Hill,” Wales said at the Richmond forum.

But Coles Jr. seemed to suggest that the company is, indeed, interested in other mining possibilities at a meeting with potential investors in London in February. Coles said the geologist who discovered uranium at Coles Hill has long believed that more deposits will be found. Virginia could be another “Athabasca Basin” Coles said, referring to an area in Saskatchewan, Canada, where 41 companies mine one-third of the world’s uranium supply.

“Talking to the lead geologist,” Coles said, “he’s insistent to this day that Coles Hill is the first of more major discoveries in Virginia that might lead to another Athabasca-style resource play.”

Uranium Mining – The Virginia Battleground – Environmental Concerns vs. Corporate Interests Part Two

Uranium Mining – The Virginia Battleground – Environmental Concerns vs. Corporate Interests Part Three

The main study on Uranium Mining in Virginia came out in December. Most people have read the non-technical brief that has been linked in many articles. But the full report to view on the internet is linked below. From the link, scroll to the Table of Contents and from there you can either read the full report, select chapters, or skim. Under the skim feature you can also search by “suggested” keywords.
Full report: “Uranium Mining in Virginia: Scientific, Technical, Environmental, Human Health and Safety and Regulatory Aspects of Uranium Mining and Processing in Virginia.”

Who owns Virginia Uranium Inc.?
Here’s how the company is structured: VA Uranium Holdings Inc., a company incorporated in Yukon, Canada, for tax purposes, owns 100 percent of Virginia Uranium Inc.  A little less than 50 percent of VA Uranium Holdings is owned by Canadian firms. Virginia Energy Resources Inc., a uranium development company based in Vancouver, Canada, owns 29.44 percent of the holding company’s shares, while Sprott Resource Corp., a Toronto-based natural resource development firm, owns another 18.06 percent. Local investors own about 52.5 percent of the holding company, according to Virginia Uranium.

Video: “Uranium has never been mined east of the Mississippi River–for good reason. Kay Slaughter, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, explains why mining and milling uranium in southern Virginia poses serious threats to the environment and public health.”

Health effects of uranium exposure in charts, graphics and pictures (pdf)

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I think lifting the ban has less to do with Virginia’s economy and more to do with the mining industry’s profits. Plus, our military’s unsustainable need for uranium and other strategic elements and rare earth minerals is a thirst we should be concerned about. It certainly won’t be sated in Pittsylvania County. In that context alone, I think the ban will be lifted by our lawmakers regardless of every foreseeable negative impact, and we can expect that this sort of dangerous mining and toxic dumping will spread … unless we can stop it.

Ms. O’Connor did point out the large Canadian presence involved, and in fact they are present throughout U.S. mining operations – but she didn’t mention that their web of partnerships sells to global markets. In foreign-owned hands, how can we control, or even know where the uranium and its by-products are being sold?

After 35 years of continuous mining (which is unheard of because they quit working when the market is down), the damage would be done and the mine would be abandoned. A hand full of people – maybe even some Virginians – would have made a startling fortune. After that, many generations of our children would be charged with finding safe ways to escape something we did knowing that we couldn’t control the outcome and that it could cause them cancer, birth defects and genetic mutations – among other things.

Earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding … Virginia has a long history of catastrophic weather events, and that’s not including the climate change that promises to deliver circumstances we can’t conceive of today. There’s not a corporation nor a government on earth that can ensure a thousand years of safety. Nor can they deny that in the next thousand years, no matter how “safe” the clean-up is, one healthy explosion in the reclamation area is all it would take to contaminate the water, air and land that sustain millions of Americans. That’s a bullseye.

A while back, I read a comment that a physicist made about nuclear energy production, but I think it applies to uranium mining as well. He said, “We can send a spaceship to Alpha Centauri today but it would take a hundred years or more to arrive. In 80 years, we might send a spaceship that would pass the original en route. Are we advancing our progress by sending one today? Unlikely – we already know what the current technology can and cannot do. If we used the money on basic research instead of giving it to companies to try to make inferior technology competitive, we would be better off in the long run.”
DCKennedy

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The Safety Target

Fukushima

APV’s official position on nuclear energy is focused on safety, a critical intermediate step toward clean renewable standards for energy production in America.

We have fodder enough in the continuing reports on the meltdown of Fukushima’s reactors and the devastation it’s causing the people of Japan and their environment to consider improved safety regulations at nuclear reactor sites an issue worth APV’s attention.

So, what safety precautions are reasonable, and should that be determined as weighed in the balance of profits to be made by industry stakeholders? Both questions have simple answers: Whatever it takes to protect the people and environment is reasonable. And to the second question: No.

Unfortunately, neither answer is in play for nuclear energy production or any other energy production. Glaring examples of that are spilled in the Gulf, contaminating water at fracking sites and consuming precious resources at mountaintop removal coal mining sites, among others. This is typical of deregulation and overreach where ethics and safety are overlooked to increase corporate profits.

A dumbfounding example of this happened yesterday. For the first time in 34 years, a utility was granted a license to build two nuclear reactors in Georgia. In the wake of the Fukushima event, the license was granted without even requiring the same commitment to safety planned by the NRC for existing sites across the country. Sure, they’ll be new and improved. They’ll be modern and different. So why isn’t it a given that something they’re planning to build in the future would be at least as safe as what we have planned for existing reactors?

US licenses first nuclear reactors since 1978
Gregory Jaczko, pushes for more safety requirements. He’s the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s chairman and reportedly considered a trouble maker for industry owners’ groups. He was also the only ‘no’ vote: “There is still more work. I cannot support this licensing as if Fukushima never happened. I believe it requires some type of binding commitment that the Fukushima enhancements that are currently projected and currently planned to be made would be made before the operation of the facility.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a group that says it wants to improve nuclear safety not end nuclear power, sided with Jaczko. “The chairman has done the right thing. It makes no sense to rush into constructing any new reactor before the implications of Fukushima are fully understood and incorporated into NRC regulations.” ~UCS senior scientist Edwin Lyman

Thomas Fanning, the utility’s CEO, “declined to say why Southern would not agree to include language in the new license to complete potential Fukushima modifications before the reactors come online, as Jaczko suggested.”

When I read that part of the comment, “Southern would not agree to….”, I had to wonder where they get off refusing to agree to something the NRC puts forth, and how they get away with it. The answer, I believe, is in the article’s money quote:

Fanning: “The project is on track, and our targets related to cost and schedule are achievable.”

So … it appears the “safety target” didn’t make the cut and was tossed out. So much for the people’s safety. On the other hand, Southern is seeking an $8.3 billion loan guarantee from the federal government to cover its losses in the event that things don’t go “as planned”.

My conclusion is that Jaczko’s hands are being tied, and that as usual, powerful conservatives corrupt, break or get rid of any obstacle in their pursuit of maximum profit.

North Anna Nuclear Plant Damaged and Shut Down – Earthquake, August 23, 2011

In better news, APV recently petitioned the Commission. Our representative Erica Gray commented as follows:

US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, February 2, 2012
North Anna Nuclear Safety:

(Conclusion)
In just six months, 80 or more aftershocks have followed the 5.8 earthquake that admittedly exceeded the North Anna plant’s design. APV reiterates our concern for the restart “commitments” which exclude adequate evacuation planning.

The State Capitol, Richmond, home to more than 1.25 million Virginians, is 40 miles down-wind from the North Anna plant. We have been informed by Richmond’s Emergency Management Coordinator, Mr. McLean, that no evacuation plan is in place because Richmond is outside the nuclear site’s official 10 mile radius.

While more than enough evidence demonstrates that a 10 mile radius is not sufficient, and that the absence of a plan poses additional hazard to the affected population facing a nuclear event, we find this to be an important and correctable issue among failures in safety oversight.

APV is asking the NRC to promptly issue rules requiring the appropriate local, state and federal agencies to develop comprehensive emergency evacuation plans for areas in a 50 mile radius of all 104 existing commercial nuclear power sites, including the North Anna facility, and that these plans be made available to the public.

Ultimately, the North Anna nuclear power plant poses a serious threat to Virginia residents and the environment. We ask that the NRC recognize the danger it presents, and take action accordingly. Thank you.

The Board’s reaction:
[The Board has accepted for further review the petitioner’s requested action that VEPCO submit a formal license amendment request for earthquake related modifications and licensing changes rather than how the plant was allowed to restart with only regulatory “commitments” which the petitioners assert have not and do not represent an adequate and enforceable regulatory tool.]

DCKennedy

Unveiling nuclear safety

Energy news can be really exciting these days, or frustrating and scary. But as the ole’ mother of invention kicks in, people around the world are creating solutions and designing power options to help us shake rattle and roll off our addiction to dangerous, destructive sources and practices we’ve been stuck with for too long. Some ideas are better than others, but as we brainstorm through this process it gets clearer all the time that we’re making good headway. We’re doing it! Maybe the trick is to stay focused on the beauty and benefits of a green future. Check this out!

On the other hand, we’re still facing critical safety and environmental issues that surround fossil fuel, including the acquisition of oil, the obvious dangers associated with fracking, and destructive coal mining practices. With all the information available on the down side, I can’t even imagine voting to reelect a representative who isn’t working to help end our national obsession with filthy dangerous energy sources. Obviously, the Keystone pipeline project and ending bans on uranium mining would lead us in the wrong direction.

One of our most imminent threats, as the people of Japan know well, is the safety and regulation needed to continue nuclear power production until it can be effectively phased out.

In that vein, this should be an interesting meeting this morning. The operators of our nuclear power plants have a deal for us: They’ll do what they want to improve safety, and that’s the end of it.

The industry is seeking assurances from the NRC that it won’t face additional requirements on the same safety issues later if it moves forward voluntarily now.

“This is just something that we believe we should be doing,” said Adrian Heymer, who is in charge of the Institute’s Fukushima regulatory response team. “But we want to get some credit for it.”

Credit? They’ve known all along what could happen to us if the power goes out like it did in Japan, and they’ve done nothing to solve that problem for decades. They’ve been playing the odds, gambling with our safety – and now they want credit for being proactive?

“Heymer said the new backup systems could keep nuclear fuel cool for three days or more.”

A key feature, yes. But understanding that without this feature “the plants can only cope for 4 to 8 hours” means that they have been ignoring a key feature – a feature standing between life and death to the people and environments surrounding 104 U.S. reactors.

“The proposal is likely to face scrutiny from nuclear watchdogs, in part because it involves portable equipment that wouldn’t be subject to the strictest NRC standards and wouldn’t be installed as part of a mandatory NRC rule.”

That’s true for now, but the NRC is getting ready to impose new regulations on nuclear facilities because the industry operators have failed to do it. If these operators are seeking to show us how proactively they improve safety – they’re too late. They’ve already shown us that until the NRC is on the verge of regulating, they don’t invest in the people’s safety.

The equipment used for severe accident mitigation after 9/11, – guidelines “which had been adopted voluntarily by the nuclear industry and thus not subject to commission rules”, were found to be problematic in nearly a third of our nations reactors.

So, here we go again with a new safety plan being unveiled today, voluntarily, just before they get hit with regulations they have to abide by, subject to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“Heymer said the industry’s proposal would be implemented by 2015, but predicted a formal rule would take longer to finalize.

So what’s the deal? We’ll know more after the meeting, but so far it looks like we’re supposed to let these operators dawdle around for three more years developing their own safety requirements and quality controls, only allowing us to set standards and inspect equipment. In exchange for this magnanimous offer, they want us to agree that we won’t require anything else of them regarding these safety issues – that’s what they’re calling “credit”.

That’s not a deal; it’s another attempt to avoid NRC regulations that have teeth, cost more money, make the people safer and operators accountable.

We will continue to pay for their liability insurance until 2025 via the Price-Anderson Act. It’s high-dollar insurance paid for by taxpayers but given “free” to for-profit nuclear plant operators. Of course, it’s not adequate enough to cover victims of accidents, but it indemnifies the operators for accidents even if they cause one by willful misconduct or gross negligence. It’s socialism for the rich. So, I say we should crack down on the NRC, get the regulations finalized tout suite, and let these operators know who’s boss.

They should spend all the money it takes to implement reasonable, preventative safety features and to have supplies and procedures in place to protect and evacuate the public affected by a nuclear event, and not just within a pat 50 mile radius, but also downwind as far as the scientists estimate the affected public resides. And they shouldn’t be allowed to pass the cost on to us. This is one industry that won’t shut down and go elsewhere for cheap labor. They’re completely dependent on the American consumer, and they should show some appreciation for us while they’re still around.

We’ll see what happens. The meeting is from 9 -12, and I hope the NRC, not at all known for their vicious bite, can find the gumption to work in the interest of safety instead of placating the corporations.
DCKennedy