Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Uranium mining carries risks
By Tamim Younos
Younos is executive vice president and research director for environmental sustainability programs at the Cabell Brand Center for Global Poverty and Resource Sustainability Studies in Salem.
Many Virginians are justifiably concerned about the potential environmental and societal impacts of the proposed uranium mining in Pittsylvania County. The region is a geographic area of high population that can also be susceptible to mining operation failure due to unpredictable and extreme hydrological events not unlike the recent thunderstorms and hurricanes.
For several years, I and colleagues at Virginia Tech studied the effects of coal mining on natural surface and ground-water systems in Southwest Virginia coalfield counties. Contamination of streams and ground water, punctured aquifers and lack of safe drinking water are typical consequences of coal mining in the region. The magnitude of devastation on natural water systems, air pollution and associated human costs are significant in coalfield counties, and the damage cannot be repaired even in just the next hundred years.
One can imagine the magnitude and impact of a radioactive catastrophe that may be caused by an unpredicted natural disaster or some human error from a uranium mine operation that will be located close to Virginia population centers.
But let us trust for a moment the advances in mining technology and assume that uranium mining can be a safe operation, then follow the path of uranium that will be produced in Pittsylvania County. Like coal produced in Southwest Virginia, the uranium mined in Pittsylvania County needs to be transported through populated areas to fuel nuclear power generation plants, the ultimate purpose of uranium mining.
Then there are issues and concerns about the safety of nuclear power plants in Virginia and elsewhere. The 2011 incident in Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, caused by force of nature, has introduced significant uncertainty about the safety of nuclear power generation plants around the globe. Some European countries, notably Germany, are moving away from constructing and operating nuclear power plants.
In addition, as yet there is no practical and feasible solution for disposal of radioactive waste generated from a nuclear power plant. And from a water resources specialist perspective, compared to all other power generation technologies, nuclear power plants are highly water intensive and require significant amounts of water, a resource predicted to become scarce in coming decades.
On July 27, a cadre of distinguished speakers will gather for a one-day forum at the Virginia Western Community College Whitman Theater to discuss various facets of the proposed uranium mining operation in Pittsylvania County. The forum agenda and registration information are posted at cabellbrandcenter.org. Registration will close on Thursday.
at 5:00 AM