The Chinese, Russians, and Indians are planning to build a combined 159 new nuclear power plants. They are going to need uranium. Fortunately for us, there is an estimated $10 billion worth of uranium, the seventh largest in the world, sitting in Virginia. Unfortunately, like every other front on energy, there are environmental regulations standing between us and energy. Manhattan Institute senior fellow Max Schultz writes in the Wall Street Journal:
James Kelly, who directed the nuclear engineering program at the University of Virginia for many years, says that fears about uranium mining are wildly overblown. “It’s an aesthetic nightmare, but otherwise safe in terms of releasing any significant radioactivity or pollution,” he told me. “It would be ugly to look at, but from the perspective of any hazard I wouldn’t mind if they mined across the street from me.”
The situation is rich with irony as well as uranium. While you can’t mine yellowcake, it is perfectly legal in Virginia to process enriched uranium into usable nuclear fuel, which is somewhat dangerous to handle. A subsidiary of the French nuclear giant Areva operates a fuel fabrication facility in Lynchburg 50 miles from Chatham. It has been praised by Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, as a good corporate citizen. The state is also home to four commercial nuclear reactors, which provide Virginians with 35% of their electricity. And, of course, the U.S. Navy operates nuclear ships out of Norfolk, Va.
Heritage research fellow Jack Spencer wrote earlier this year:
Nuclear energy is becoming globally recognized as a safe, affordable, clean source of energy. Uranium is an important and necessary component of nuclear energy, and firms choosing to pursue uranium mining should not be unnecessarily burdened by fear and government overreach. Uranium mining occurs all over the world, and the United States should realize its potential to increase America’s share of the uranium mining sector. It has proven to be safe for workers, the public, and the environment and is critical to the ability of the U.S. to enjoy all of the advantages that accrue from expansion of nuclear power.