After the first hour of the second Trump-Clinton debate, I was beginning to worry that I wouldn't be able to fulfill my assignment to write about the way that … [Read More...] about American’s Nuclear (Power) Program Is Way Behind Russia’s
Despite the currently abysmal state of the market, Virginia Uranium Inc. (VUI), owner of the 119-million pound deposit at Coles Hill, continues legal efforts to overturn the ostensibly temporary moratorium on uranium mining in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The most recent step in the process for overturning the moratorium, first established in 1982 pending the creation of a regulatory regime, was a pre-trial hearing during the first week of October on a lawsuit in which VUI is charging that the rule violates the state’s constitution.
Specically, VUI’s legal team argued that the prohibition on extracting uranium amounts to a regulatory taking of private property without proper compensation.
But state Assistant Attorney General Duncan Pitchford asserted that eminent domain is allowed when needed to protect the public’s health and safety and that Virginia lawmakers ful lled their responsibilities by imposing the ban.
VUI asked Judge Chadwick Dotson to require that the government clarify its assertion that the legislature has determined that moratorium is needed to protect public health.
It’s worth noting that the legislature’s only recent action regarding the moratorium was to fail to vote on a bill that would have lifted it. The measure was proposed and actively discussed in a variety of public forums, but the bills were never brought to the floor.
After his 2013 election, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) vowed to veto any legislation that lifted the ban. His four-year term ends in January 2018, just 15 months from now.
According to John Ohlendorf, one of the attorneys on the VUI team, VUI would like Judge Dotson to force the government to be specific about the supposed health risks associated with uranium processing and tails storage.
Ohlendorf agreed that an argument can be made that the Atomic Energy Act preempts state responsibility in judging whether those portions of uranium mining activity are being done safely.
Property Rights Protection
VUI attorneys may have a point. Via a 2012 ballot initiative, 75% of Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment that tightly limits the criteria by which governments can exercise their eminent domain.
The amendment also made it more clear that government restrictions that limit full property value qualify as takings that deserve compensation.
Ohlendorf told me that the Attorney General’s office apparently believes it preserved the status quo, a position that could be bolstered by the lack of related case law or precedent as the amendment is only four years old.
He and other members of the plaintiff team are looking forward to the opportunity to help the state better understand what the voters wanted when they passed the initiative on eminent domain.
The new statute allows its exercise only “where the property taken or damaged is for public use and, except for utilities or the elimination of a public nuisance, not where the primary use is for private gain, private benefit, private enterprise, increasing jobs, increasing tax revenue, or economic development; (ii) to define what is included in just compensation for such taking or damaging of property; and (iii) to prohibit the taking or damaging of more private property than is necessary for the public use.”
Uranium Politics Making News Again
Meanwhile, two challengers vying to represent the fifth district in the Virginia House of Delegates believe that uranium mining remains a issue for which continued support of the ban equals more votes.
Democrat Jane Dittmar is running a television and YouTube ad called “Doing,” with background text saying that Republican Tom Garrett supports uranium mining.
Her campaign staff said the support is a result of two $1,000 contributions, one in 2011 and one in 2012, made by VUI while Garrett occupied a seat in the commonwealth’s senate.
According to the Democrat, Garrett’s vote on HB179, the bill that established the Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium and the Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium Authority, proved he supports uranium mining.
Garrett’s campaign issued a strong denial, saying he never voted to lift the uranium mining ban. According to communications director Andrew Griffin, HB179 said nothing about removing the moratorium.
Bearing Drift, a conservative Virginia blog, noted and condemned Garrett’s decision to claim he opposes uranium mining. According to Shaun Kenny, the author of the piece, uranium “rocks.”
Virginia Company Sells to Uranium Miners
An editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch noted that a press release from Gov. McAuliffe took credit for a recent $300,000 sale by Ceramic Technology. That 32 year-old company sells ceramic coated fabrications initially developed for the coal mining industry.
The editor criticized the governor for claiming that Ceramic Technology’s sale was a direct result of the company’s participation in the Go Global with Coal & Energy Technology (GGCET) program. GGCET supported a sales trip to Canada, providing an opportunity for Ceramic Technology to pitch its valuable products to the gold and uranium mining industry.
Yet McAuliffe continues to oppose the development of the multi- billion dollar uranium deposit located less than 200 miles from Ceramic Technology’s Cedar Bluff fabrication facility.
Developing that deposit will require millions of dollars in equipment that could be supplied by Virginia’s experienced mining industry. Digging rocks out of the ground is a Virginia core competency.
As Ohlendorf said, uranium has been patiently waiting in the ground at Coles Hill for a long time. Until it has been mined, there will be continuing efforts to unlock its value.
Note: A version of the above was first published by Fuel Cycle Week. It is reposted here with permission.
After the first hour of the second Trump-Clinton debate, I was beginning to worry that I wouldn’t be able to fulfill my assignment to write about the way that the candidates spoke about my coverage area.
There was no mention of energy, clean energy, nuclear energy or climate change.
Finally, at 1:02:40 on this video of the debate, Donald Trump made the following statement.
…our nuclear program has fallen behind and they’ve gone wild with their program. Not good. Our government should not have allowed that to happen. Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old, we’re tired we’re exhausted in terms of nuclear. A very bad thing.
With his next words, which were something about being tough with Putin and Assad and not knowing who the rebels were, I realized that Mr. Trump was most likely talking about nuclear weapons and not nuclear energy.
Either way, he was incorrect in stating that Russia is new in terms of nuclear; they exploded their first nuclear device in 1949 and began operating their first electricity generating reactor at Obninsk in 1954.
Russia didn’t beat us in initial development, but they caught up quickly with the help of a few Manhattan Project insiders, most notoriously from Klaus Fuchs.
If Mr. Trump had been talking about nuclear energy and meant that Russia’s nuclear power program was vibrant and building lots of new plants, especially in the international market, he would have beeen pretty close to correct.
The U.S. is building four new reactors, but there hasn’t been a new project ground-breaking since late 2009 when the NRC issued an early site permit and limited work authorization for the Vogtle units 3 and 4 project.
Our most recently started nuclear plant, Watts Bar Unit 2, is nearing the completion of full power testing after finally completing a construction project that started in 1973. The second youngest plant in the U.S. operating fleet is Watts Bar Unit 1, which began commercial operations 20 years ago in 1996.
Energy did not re-enter the debate conversation until what was initially billed as the final question. It was a good one, posed by Ken Bone.
What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?
(Aside: Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who liked Mr. Bone’s question. If I decide to dress up as Ken Bone for Halloween, I already have the right glasses and a mustache. End Aside.)
Here are the candidate responses.
Trump: I think it’s such a great question because energy is under siege by the Obama Administration. Under absolute siege. The EPA Environmental Protection Agency is killing these energy companies and foreign companies are now coming in and buying so many of our different plants and then rejiggering the plant so that they can take care of their oil.
We are killing, absolutely killing our energy business in this country. Now I’m all for alternative forms of energy, including wind, including solar, etc. but we need much more than wind and solar.
Now you look at our miners; Hillary Clinton wants to put all the miners out of business. There is a thing called “clean coal.” Coal will last for a thousand years in this country. Now we have natural gas and so many other things because of technology. We have unbelievable… we have found… over the last seven years we have found tremendous wealth right under our feet.
So good, especially when you have 20 trillion in debt. I will bring our energy companies back. They’ll be able to compete; they’ll make money’ they’ll pay off our national debt; they’ll pay off our tremendous budget deficits which are tremendous, but we are putting our energy companies out of business. We have to bring back our workers. You look at steel and the cost of steel and China dumping vast amounts of steel all over the United States, which is essentially killing our steel workers and our steel companies.
We have to guard our energy companies. We have to make it possible … the EPA is so restrictive that they are putting our energy companies out of business. And all you have to do is go to a great place like West Virginia or places like Ohio, which is phenomenal, or places like Pennsylvania and you see what they’re doing to the people, miners and others in the energy business. It’s a disgrace, an absolute disgrace.
Clinton: Well that was very interesting. (Pause) First of all, China is illegally dumping steel in the United States and Donald Trump is buying it to build his buildings, putting steel workers and American steel plants out of business. That’s something that I fought against as a Senator and that I would have a trade prosecutor to make sure that we don’t get taken advantage of by China on steel or anything else.
(Turning to face and address the questioner, Mr. Bone.) You know, because it sounds like you are in the business or are aware of people in the business. You know that we are now, for the first time ever, energy independent. We are not dependent on the Middle East, but the Middle East still controls a lot of the prices. So the price of oil has been way down and that has had a damaging effect on a lot of the oil companies, right?
We are, however, producing a lot of natural gas — which serves as a bridge to more renewable fuels — and I think that’s an important transition. We’ve got to remain energy independent. It gives us much more power and freedom than to be worried about what goes on in the Middle East. We have enough worries over there without having to worry about that.
So I have a comprehensive energy policy but it really does include fighting climate change because I think that is a serious problem. And I support moving towards more clean, renewable energy as quickly as we can because I think we can be the twenty-first century clean energy superpower and create millions of new jobs and businesses.
But I also want to be sure that we don’t leave people behind. That’s why I’m the only candidate, from the very beginning of this campaign, who had a plan to help us revitalize coal country. Because those coal miners and their fathers and their grandfathers they dug that coal out; a lot of them lost their lives, they were injured, but they turned the lights on and they powered our factories. I don’t want to walk away from them, so we’ve got to do something for them. (Cooper warns about time) But the price of coal is down worldwide. So we have to look at this comprehensively and that’s exactly what I have proposed. (Cooper warns again) I hope you will go to hillaryclinton.com and review my entire policy.
Unlike all other questions asked during the debate, there was no redirect, no follow-up and no additional discussion. Instead, the moderators chose to “sneak in” another question.
Therefore, we can only guess what Mr. Trump meant when he said that foreign buyers are purchasing and “rejiggering” our energy plants to “take care of their oil,” how he thinks that energy companies, taxed at his recommended corporate rate of 15% will pay off our national debt and balance the budget, or why he thinks that we have 1,000 years worth of coal remaining in the U. S.
We also don’t know what Secretary Clinton meant when she said that America is, “for the first time ever” now energy independent, whether her definition of “clean energy” includes nuclear energy or why she thinks that natural gas is produced by different companies than those that produce oil — it comes from the same holes in the ground.
Following Secretary Clinton’s advice, I went to her web site and searched through the issues page. Unless I missed it, there is no comprehensive energy policy; the closest item in her issues list is under the heading of “Climate Change.”
There are fact sheets linked within that issue that indicate that Clinton favors advanced nuclear energy and would include nuclear power in her challenge grant program.
Bottom line – neither of the major party candidates seems to have a full grasp of the importance of a solid, balanced clean energy policy that includes healthy support for expanding nuclear energy, but Secretary Clinton’s policy statements are reasonable.
It would be nice, however, if both candidates could add nuclear energy to their lexicon while being careful to distinguish between “energy” and “weapons” where appropriate.
Note: A version of the above was first published at Forbes.com a Trump Correctly States U.S. ‘Nuclear Program Has Fallen Behind’ Russia’s. It is published here with permission.
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