The chairman of the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission, Delegate Terry Kilgore, has announced a public hearing in Richmond on November 6 to launch a study of mining the state’s uranium resource.
“The need for independent American sources of energy is a matter of national security and economic prosperity. We know that Virginia has a significant, high-quality uranium deposit and as Virginians and Americans, we have a responsibility to study the feasibility of mining it safely,” said Delegate Kilgore…
“The Coal and Energy Commission conducted a similar study in the eighties and deals regularly with mining issues; it is the Commonwealth’s repository of mining expertise and the right entity to conduct this study. The Commission will work the affected locality and surrounding areas to develop parameters to the study,” Kilgore said.
Pittsylvania County in the southwest part of the state is the site of what’s believed to be the largest deposit of uranium ore in the United States. A locally based company, Virginia Uranium, has been formed to explore its development. If the United States is serious about nuclear energy — and it sure should be — then the study will prove a useful step forward. As Jack Spencer at the Heritage Foundation wrote in August, the Pittsylvania site could provide as much as 110 million pounds of uranium.
This quantity of uranium could supply all 104 nuclear reactors in the United States, which provide 20 percent of the nation’s electricity, for two years. And we’re not even talking about new technology. Uranium has been mined safely for decades in many global spots, including in New Mexico, Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming.
Right now the United States relies on imports (Canada, Australia, Russia) for the vast majority of its uranium supply: 47 million pounds of U3O8 equivalent in 2007, compared to 4 million pounds of domestically derived uranium, according to Department of Energy figures. Daniel Weiss at the Center for American Progress Action Fund says, see, more nuclear power, more energy dependence (h/t Bradford Plummer at TNR).
Nuclear power will not lead to energy independence because the U.S. must import over 90% of its uranium, with nearly one-third coming from Russia. If we double the number of nuclear plants, as McCain has called for, we would become even more dependent on countries that, in McCain’s words, “don’t like us very much.”
How so, with a resource like the Pittsylvania ore available? Unless, of course, you expect environmentalists to block mining and nuclear power as they have in the past, in the process guaranteeing continued energy insecurity.