Another Untapped Resource: Mine the Uranium Now!

January 10, 2013

What a sad state of affairs our nation has reached when powerful political groups such as the Sierra Club and other interest groups can cloud issues with false statements and scare tactics which have no basis in factual reality. Whether it is opposition to Dominion Resources’ shale gas export project at Cove Point in Maryland or uranium mining development in southwestern Virginia, the Sierra Club seems to ignore findings by competent regulatory authorities that resources such as shale gas can revitalize American manufacturing by providing cheap industrial feedstocks and nuclear energy, which does not contribute to global climate change. It can be developed safely and in a manner that provides high paying jobs for local individuals as well as valuable foreign exchange for our nation’s ailing economy.

Critics of uranium mining in Virginia where large reserves are available state that mining this resource in Virginia is “an experiment” since there is no place in Canada or Australia (two large uranium producers) where an active uranium mine is operating in a wet climate that is also subject to an occasional hurricane. Apparently these propagandists are unaware that a large volume of uranium mining in Australia sits in the path of almost yearly typhoons while uranium mines in Gabon sit in the middle of rain forests while those in South Africa lie directly in the path of violent weather in the Indian Ocean littoral. A lot of Canadian uranium production lies in fragile Arctic tundra environments while the prospects for new uranium mining in Greenland and Alaska are hardly in hospitable environments. Uranium mining and prospecting also occurs in other fragile rain forest environments in Brazil.

Today the United States has more commercial nuclear reactors (104) in operation than any other country in the world. We are also the world’s largest producer of enriched uranium, providing valuable services not only to power plants around the world but also to medical and advanced research reactors at universities and medical research facilities. Ironically, however, for many years our nuclear edifice has depended on large volumes of imported uranium both because it is usually economically less expensive than domestic uranium to produce and because, owing to environmental opposition, most uranium mines have had to close down. The market for uranium is complex. A grass roots world class uranium mine which could be developed in Virginia often takes as much as 15 years to develop fully and can cost $5-10 billion. Because of this long lead time, uranium prices can gyrate wildly with large fluctuations when there is any disruption in the market such as a strike at a major producing facility. Consequently before making such an investment, investors need to make sure that there will be a market for this uranium (both domestically and internationally) when it comes on line, or, since uranium often comes in association with other valuable minerals such as gold, that there is enough of the other mineral to cover costs as the uranium mine is developed.

While the U.S. market for new nuclear power plants in the U.S. is currently modest, this may well change the day the United States finally decides to place a price on carbon to reduce dangerous CO2 emissions. To meet domestic uranium demand, currently there is only one (Nevada) major operating mine in the United States. To meet the needs of the current generation of reactors especially as they receive life extensions, as well as a booming potential export demand in India, China, the Middle East and elsewhere, is it not imprudent to open a world class mine that would vastly reduce our dependency on imported uranium while creating valuable jobs at home? While Virginia has a proud tradition of states’ rights, it is also the home of Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe–men of vision who saw the potential to turn warring parochial constituencies into a great nation composed of many diverse people when woven together would form a great nation. Come on Virginia, rise to the occasion and help once again meet the needs of a great nation.