National Academy of Sciences study sounds cautionary note on uranium mining in Virginia

The long-awaited (22 months) study by the National Academy of Sciences into the feasibility of uranium mining in Virginia was released on December 19 before the Virginia General Assembly Uranium Mining Subcommittee. The lengthy report, now available on line, sounded a cautionary note and presented a series of serious challenges to the Commonwealth if it insists on overturning the current mortatorium on uranium mining in Virginia. The study concluded that there are "steep hurdles to be surmounted before mining and processing could be established in a way that is appropriately protective of the health and safety of workers, the public and the environment."

Behind the push to over-turn the moratorium is Virginia Uranium which has spent millions of dollars to support its hopes to mine uranium at Coles Farm in Pittsylvania County. However, the NAS, which was not tasked to do a site-specific analysis, warned that the environmental and health impacts, the threat of natural events (such as the recent major earthquake), and the wet environment (which contrasts with most arid uranium mine sites) would need to be mitigated using international best practices should uranium mining be undertaken. Virginia lacked experience in the field technically, and the regulatory landcape is confusing. Concerns were also raised about the lack of adequate public participation. A thorough site characterization conducted at Coles would be essential. "Additionally, until comprehensive site-specific risk assessments are conducted, including accident and failure analyses, the short-term risks associated with natural disasters, accidents, and spills remain poorly defined," the report said.

Beyond Nuclear attended the presentation. Our assessment was that the report represented uranium mining as risky and challenging and by no means a green light for lifting the ban. The study was by consensus with no minority report. However, Virginia legislators will now need to base their decision-making on the science within the report, not the lobbying powers (and dollars) of Virginia Uranium. The considerable complications, challenges, risks and expense of undertaking the needless venture of mining uranium in Virginia, as outlined in the NAS report, should be enough of a deterrent to end all consideration of this project and instead shift focus onto sectors where real, meaningful and safe jobs can be developed instead.

The NAS pointed out:

"Three over-arching best practices should be guiding principles if uranium mining were to be permitted: the need to plan at the outset of the project for the complete life cycle of mining, processing, and reclamation; the need to engage and retain qualified experts familiar with internationally accepted best practices for all aspects of a project; and the need to encourage meaningful and timely public participation throughout the life cycle of a project, beginning at the earliest stages."


NRC Rubberstamps Risky Reactor Restarts

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has recently approved some remarkably risky reactor restarts. NRC has approved a restart at Dominion's North Anna nuclear power plant in Mineral, Virginia, even though an August 23rd 5.8 magnitude earthquake, epicentered just 11 miles away, caused ground motion twice as strong as the twin reactor station was designed to withstand. NRC's restart approval for both North Anna reactors came even though one reactor was inadequately inspected, and the other almost not at all; many questions remain about the status of the reactors, the radioactive waste stored on-site, and even dams retaining cooling water vital to North Anna's safety. Beyond Nuclear and an environmental coalition have filed an emergency enforcement petition against the North Anna restart. Beyond Nuclear's Paul Gunter and Kevin Kamps, along with their environmental allies, just defended and supplemented the emergency enforcement petition before an NRC Petition Review Board on Dec. 12th.

Similarly, NRC has approved the restart of the Davis-Besse atomic reactor near Toledo, Ohio, despite significant cracking discovered in its secondary containment shield building. Beyond Nuclear and an environmental coalition has intervened against the 20 year license extension sought by FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company at Davis-Besse. U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has strongly questioned NRC's rush to restart Davis-Besse while so many basic questions about the cracking linger.

At both nuclear power plants, NRC has, effectively, said "Restart Now, Fix Later (If At All)."


White House urges NRC Commissioners to resolve differences

President Obama introduced William Daley as his new White House Chief of Staff on Jan. 6, 2011As reported by Politico, President Obama's White House Chief of Staff, William Daley (photo left), has sent a letter to the five U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners, urging them to seek a mutually trusted third party arbiter to help them ease their internal conflicts and communications break down. Daley also responded to a request by U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, that a White House representative testify at a hearing tomorrow about the conflict, with all five NRC Commissioners also at the witness table. Daley rejected Issa's request.


HuffPost reveals that NRC Commissioner Magwood consulted for Tepco

NRC Commissioner William Magwood IVThe Huffington Post has revealed that U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner William Magwood IV (pictured, left) consulted for Tokyo Electic Power Company, owner and operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that has suffered three reactor core meltdowns and, very likely, a high-level radioactive waste storage pool fire since March 11, 2011. Magwood is at the center of an attempted "coup" at NRC, seeking to oust NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko. Magwood would be Jaczko's most likely successor. The article reports on a statement, signed by 100 organizations, seeking to block President Obama's nomination of Magwood to the NRC in the first place, due to his close ties to the nuclear power industry. Beyond Nuclear led that coalition effort. (Note one error in the article: the 2007 natural disaster that struck Japan was an earthquake, not a tsunami; several reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, the largest single atomic power facility in the world, remain idled, nearly 5 years later).


What do Frank Sinatra and NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko have in common?

The "common cold"? When a nuclear power plant "sneezes," as at Fukushima Daiichi, does the entire world catch a cold? This theme runs through a thought provoking piece by Gregg Levine about the status of nuclear safety -- or lack thereof -- in the U.S. post-Fukushima. The article quotes both Paul Gunter and Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear.