Lifting the ban on uranium mining is the rational decision

Here’s a little secret that none of you will believe: The nuclear industry has no friends. Not even themselves. Now the anti-nuclear folks and the more cynically minded among you will snort dismissively at that; you believe we are all-powerful corporations that rule the world with our big profits and our radiation, blithely killing children and polluting the world’s drinking water and arable land. But rest assured, nothing could be further from the truth.

Case in point #1: For the 25 years I’ve worked in the nuclear industry Republicans have always strongly backed nuclear energy, not to mention any and all kinds of mining. In those two and a half decades I cannot recall a single national, state or locally elected Republican politician who has ever said anything negative about nuclear energy — and very few about mining, for that matter.

Yet here we are, in the middle of a rampaging public debate on lifting the moratorium on uranium mining in the usually genteel Commonwealth of Virginia, and Southside Republicans are leading the torches-and-pitchforks brigade generating the hysteria of “keeping the ban.”

Some of these same Republicans are selling out their usual mining industry allies and talking about the “dangerous radiation” of uranium mill tailings. Yet I bet they would be beside themselves with joy if Coles Hill sat on top of a big ol’ coal or natural gas deposit.

If that were to happen, you’d never hear them say anything about the dangers of those tailings or extraction byproducts, even though mining of coal and natural gas releases the same radon and other “dangerous” and radioactive stuff as mining uranium does.

Thanks, friends!

Case in point #2: Then there are the Democrats. For years I’ve urged my fellow Democrats to stop their automatic rejection of all things nuclear, study the data and the growing scientific consensus that modern uranium mining is safe and environmentally sound, and get with the climate change program by supporting uranium mining and nuclear energy. Because you can’t have one without the other.

In fact, most Virginia Democrats have been ridiculously opposed or loudly silent on the issue — with the notable exception of state Sen. Richard Saslaw, whose clear support for reversing the moratorium showed actual leadership on energy issues, simply by acknowledging the “hypocrisy” of supporting nuclear power without supporting the fuel it needs.

Instead, most Democrats simply refuse to believe that you can safely store radioactive material that came from the ground back in the ground it came from. Without ever being able to explain how or why, they will nevertheless claim that radioactive material will get into the groundwater and kill everyone, factual supporting evidence be damned.

That any groundwater that flows through the earth is naturally contaminated with radioactive material is clearly beside the point. As is the fact that municipal water districts routinely filter drinking water for “dangerous” stuff before it shows up in your kitchen tap.

Others are so-called “environmentalists.” With all the red-hot heat of a thousand fiery suns, they hate nuclear energy, uranium mining and “dangerous radiation” more than they hate greenhouse gases.

Besides spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about all things uranium, these are the same people who think that combining renewables like solar and wind with natural gas will cure all of our climate change problems.

Cleary beside the point: that solar and wind are notoriously unreliable, expensive and couldn’t provide enough electricity for the industrial plants that make solar panels and wind turbines; and that natural gas is dirtier and less efficient than nuclear energy.

Thanks, friends!

Case in point #3: The overwhelming silence of Virginia’s thriving nuclear industry. Just in case you didn’t know, the commonwealth is home to four nuclear power stations, a nuclear fuel processing plant, two nuclear plant design organizations and the U.S. nuclear Navy. Without uranium, none of them can operate.

Yet none of them — Dominion, Babcock & Wilcox, AREVA and the zillion defense contractors that service the U.S. Navy’s seven nuclear aircraft carriers and six nuclear submarines — has stepped forward to publicly state its support for lifting the moratorium or even stated for the record that uranium can be, and currently is, mined safely.

Instead of defending our incredible safety record or correcting the shameless, ignorant propaganda of the anit-nuclear folks and so-called “environmentalists,” the nuclear industry hides its head in the sand, preferring to go along to get along, worried that somehow we’ll lose our political chits and alienate our shareholders if we dare to speak up for ourselves.

And since nature abhors a vacuum, the lunatics, liars and crazies have filled the void, grabbing the big headlines and successfully infected otherwise rational, reasonable people — and the politicians they vote for — with fear and radiophobia.

You see, the nuclear industry is its own worst enemy. If we lose the fight to lift the moratorium on uranium mining, we will have no one to blame but ourselves, and our silence will have confirmed every myth. Thanks, friends.

This piece originally ran in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on January 25, 2013.