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What doesn’t get said about mining / October 10, 2013
Paid consultant Kevin Scissons recently stated that it would be ridiculous to suggest that the United States could not mine and mill uranium safely in Virginia; after all, the U.S. put a man on the moon. This is a false analogy — the issue is not only whether relatively safe uranium mining is possible, but whether it is practical. Nevertheless, it is true that mining and milling uranium in Virginia, like sending a man to the moon, would be difficult, expensive, and entail some risk. Recall that our space program has had some disasters, notably Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia, despite a robust NASA safety budget financed by government funds.

The fact that the U.S. was able to put a man on the moon, at a cost far beyond the immediate return, says nothing about whether it is practical to mine and mill uranium in Virginia with an acceptable assurance of safety.

Scissons, a former Canadian regulator now working for Virginia Uranium’s public relations firm Capital Results, offered his opinions at a meeting of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors. When asked about potential tax revenues, Scissons insisted emphatically, “I don’t crunch numbers,” explaining that he had agreed to speak in Virginia on the condition that he not talk about money.

Imagine if John F. Kennedy had asked us to join him in sending a man to the moon and back, and refused to talk about money.

In 1961, when President Kennedy proposed sending a man to the moon as an urgent need that would determine the course of history and the fate of the free world, basically, he was asking for money — a lot of money. “Let it be clear … that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action — a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs.”

Kennedy wanted to make a powerful statement about America’s ideals and ability: cost was not a primary concern. “These are extraordinary times. And we face an extraordinary challenge. Our strength as well as our convictions have imposed upon this nation the role of leader in freedom’s cause. … It is time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.”

Virginia Uranium investor Henry Hurt Jr. wrote in 2008, “… Virginia Uranium is asking the Commonwealth of Virginia to conduct an independent scientific study to examine the concerns we have heard in recent weeks .... If such a study concludes that mining cannot be done safely, then the ore body will not be mined. Obviously, we believe that top independent scientists will find that properly-regulated mining is safe, and we believe the study will provide reasonable responses for those whose genuine concerns we respect.”

The National Academy of Sciences did the study — and concluded that the Commonwealth would face “steep hurdles” in creating an appropriately protective regulatory environment for uranium mining and milling. The Governor’s Uranium Working Group followed up with an outline of what it would take to attempt those hurdles.

Looking at the Uranium Working Group’s estimate of “the amount of resources and expertise that will be required to do that in a responsible and thoughtful way,” Dr. Paul Locke, chairman of the NAS study committee, advised, “Putting protective regulations into place would be a very, very, very difficult task. The UWG laid out an extensive framework — actions Virginia could take. We must do them all. If Virginia sunsets the moratorium, Virginia should oversee the uranium milling, as well as mining. To do so, Virginia would need the people, the expertise, and the coordination, in addition to both new laws and new regulations. The question in my mind is whether we, as a commonwealth, are ready to make that investment.”

Mining and milling uranium in Virginia is the reason for the existence of Virginia Uranium, Inc., which has spent millions of dollars in its six-year effort to convince citizens and legislators to accept its project. There are also risks and possible benefits for Virginia, but no question of the

Commonwealth’s continued existence.

We, too, live in extraordinary times and face extraordinary challenges. Yet, for good reason, no Jack Kennedy is suggesting that mining and milling uranium in Pittsylvania County, Virginia is the answer, or that we should embark on an all-out effort to achieve it.

Mining and milling uranium in Virginia is a high-risk venture for Virginia Uranium — and for the Commonwealth. No one can promise that it will produce economic benefits without harm to workers, the public, or the environment.

Whitehead is a native and resident of Pittsylvania County. She attended Scissons’ presentations at the September 2013 meeting of the Pittsylvania BOS and the June 2011 meeting of the NAS study committee.

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