The Wonk Room recently pointed out that Sen. John McCain’s plan to achieve energy independence by doubling our use of nuclear power is a pipe dream, since the U.S. nuclear industry must import over 90% of its uranium. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) shot back on its Shopfloor blog, writing about the promise of southwest Virginia’s Pittsylvania uranium deposits:
How so, with a resource like the Pittsylvania ore available? Unless, of course, you expect environmentalists to block mining and nuclear power as they have in the past, in the process guaranteeing continued energy insecurity.
NAM quotes their friends Jack Spencer and Nicolas Loris at the conservative Heritage Foundation, who claims the Pittsylvania site has “110 million pounds of uranium,” enough to “supply all 104 nuclear reactors in the United States, which provide 20 percent of the nation’s electricity, for two years.” While NAM attacks “environmentalists,” Heritage prefers blaming “government bureaucrats” for preventing access to a “safe, affordable, clean energy source” – the language right-wing wordmeister Frank Luntz constructed to describe a dangerously toxic energy source.
NAM’s Nuclear Obsession Guarantees ‘Energy Insecurity.’ The U.S. consumes one quarter of the world oil supply, but has only two percent of global reserves. The U.S. uranium position is eerily similar: “The U.S. has about 3 percent-4 percent of the world’s known uranium and produces about 4.3 percent of the world’s supply despite operating about one-quarter of the world’s commercial power reactors.” [EIA 1/29/07, 6/9/08] [Heritage Foundation, 3/25/08]
The Threat Of Uranium Mining In Virginia Is Real. “Enormous quantities of radioactive waste are generated by uranium mining and milling, with only 2 to 4 pounds of concentrated uranium oxide yellow cake obtained from each ton of ore taken out of the ground.” “Most domestic uranium mining occurs in the arid waste, where the radioactive waste is less likely to contaminate runoff. But the Virginia uranium mining would occur in a place with four times the annual rainfall of the west – 40-60 inches annually. This rainfall dramatically increases the risk of radioactive runoff contaminating drinking water.” [Piedmont Environmental Council]
Why are NAM and Heritage promoting Pittsylvania uranium as a “safe” solution to “energy security” despite the facts? Could it be because there’s a huge pile of money at stake? The Pittsylvania deposits are worth upwards of $10 billion for Virginia Uranium, the private company that owns the mining rights — and is selling the project with an army of lobbyists as a “safe” solution for “energy independence.”
UPDATE: Jack Spencer writes in:
I just read your blog on uranium mining that mentioned a piece that I and my colleague, Nick Loris, did on the issue. Obviously, I disagree with your conclusions, but that is not the reason that I’m writing. Instead, I was concerned about a couple of the implications that could be drawn from your blog. First is that my piece was somehow motivated by money. Trust me, that is not the case. I am paid by The Heritage Foundation to provide analysis of nuclear energy issues. Neither I nor Heritage is paid to take any position on any issue. I left industry specifically so that I could express my own voice. My views on uranium mining in Virginia are my own and no one else’s. In fact, only something like 3 or 4 percent of our donations come from corporations. And as far as I know, none of them are in the uranium business. I’m not even sure that any are in the nuclear business.
Second is the implication that I am part of an Army of Lobbyists. This is just simply not the case. I am not a lobbyist and represent no one in any official or unofficial capacity–except myself. I am not paid to take any position or to influence anyone on anyone’s behalf. I was never even contacted by the Virginia Uranium mining folks before writing the paper, much less paid to do so. Even since writing it, my only contact with them was an email inviting me to tour the site if I ever find myself in south-central Virginia.
By the way, we should take them up on that tour together. I’ll drive if you’re up for it.
Anyway, a good debate is always fun. I just wanted to clarify those points.