Nuclear energy is touted as a green alternative to coal-fired power plants, as nuclear power plants release considerably lower emissions. The argument does not usually go much further than this. Soon, however, the state of Virginia will dig much deeper into this issue, and the health of its waterways depends on it.
Virginia sits atop one of the largest uranium deposits in the world. It has yet to be developed because the state placed a moratorium on uranium mining and milling in 1982. Now that uranium prices are rising, Virginia Uranium, Inc. is doing all it can to ensure that the 30-year ban will be lifted.
Walter Coles, owner of Virginia Uranium, Inc. knows of several deposits on his own property. He says that his drive to quickly develop the uranium is to reduce America’s dependence on foreign energy. No matter how pure his intentions, his company is doing everything in its power to silence the voices of Virginians and to influence legislators.
According to a New York Times article:
“Mr. Coles’s company, Virginia Uranium Inc., has pressed a muscular campaign to overturn the moratorium, spending more than a half million dollars on lobbying and public relations since 2007, according to state records and the Virginia Public Access Project, which tracks money in politics. It has made its case at festivals and craft shows, and flown lawmakers to mine sites in France and Canada.”
In addition, there is the long-awaited release of the National Academy of Science’s study on the potential economic and environmental impacts of uranium mining in Virginia. As it turns out, the study is anything but impartial. According to an article from the DC Bureau:
“In 2010, Virginia said it could not afford the National Academy’s study, which the uranium panel of the state Coal and Energy Commission recommended, and asked Virginia Uranium to put up the $1.1 million.
The arrangement violated the Academy’s guidelines, which bar a private company from paying more than 50 percent of the cost of a study. The Academy made an exception for the state because it said it had no money, Academy spokeswoman Jennifer Walsh says. The Academy did not accept the funding directly from Virginia Uranium, however.
In order to avoid contact with Virginia Uranium, the Academy asked that the company give the money to the state and that the state then give it to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Virginia Tech was named a “sponsor” of the study so that it could handle the money, which it then paid to the Academy. Virginia Uranium paid Virginia Tech $300,000 for administering the study.”
In the end, Virginia Uranium also paid geochemistry professor Robert Bodnar over $700,000 in grants, as well. It is no surprise that Bodnar is an outspoken advocate of uranium development.
Coles does not just spend money on scientific studies, though. He also pays for political support. Republicans in the state legislature are known to accept tens of thousands of dollars in donations from several sources, including Dominion Resources (runs the largest electric company in Virginia), American Legislative Exchange Council, and also from their good friend at Virginia Uranium, who donated over $27,000. It is also worth noting that the company flaunts the support of current Republican Governor, Bob McDonnell on its website.
If the moratorium ends, considering the political and economic momentum behind Virginia Uranium, it is doubtful that only one mine will be developed in the state. In all likelihood, uranium mining could explode in Virginia like natural gas drilling has in Pennsylvania. Traditionally, uranium is mined in the arid areas of the Western United States. There is no guarantee that the same processes can be done safely under the weather conditions of the East Coast; consider the increase in tornado activity and hurricane strength. Contamination cannot be prevented one-hundred percent of the time. And thanks to Mr. Coles, there is no one left to protect Virginia’s people and waterways. The state’s future has been bought and paid for.