Some of the earliest documented instances of opposition to the development of commercial nuclear power in the United States originated from designated representatives of the coal industry. They were the first people to mount sustained opposition to the use of taxpayer money to support the development of nuclear power stations.
They testified against the implied subsidy associated with nuclear fuel leasing and complained about the value credited to commercial plant operators for the plutonium produced during operation, even though that material was locked up inside used fuel rods. They were the first people to label the Price-Anderson nuclear liability limitations as a subsidy.
The coal industry, frequently referred to as “King Coal” in the era up to the end of World War II, had legitimate commercial reasons for striving to convince the Government to stop pushing atomic power into the electricity market. The industry had experienced a 30% slide in sales by weight during the fifteen year period between the end of the war and 1960. It nearly completely lost both the home heating market and the railroad locomotive market to diesel fuel and natural gas. The utility power market was the coal industry’s only real growth area.
However, by the early 1970s, the coal industry quietly backed away from the political struggle against atomic energy, apparently recognizing that more effective recruits had arrived to continue the fight.
After 1971, it appears that the coal industry decided to focus its internal efforts on continuing to improve mine productivity and reduce transportation costs while allowing others to take the visible lead on the political part of their battle to maintain sales growth by slowing the atomic competition.
After that introduction, it is incumbent on me to provide evidence that support the claims. First, however, I’d like to let you know how I happened to come across a new, rather rich seam of material that backs up a theory I have been developing for many years.
After I published a recent post titled Smoking gun: AEC told President Kennedy why coal industry was opposed to nuclear energy, Kirk Sorensen sent me an email that included a clipping from the Knoxville News-Sentinel that he had discovered while going through papers in the basement of an Oak Ridge National Laboratory retiree.
That October 2, 1966 News-Sentinel article, titled Coal Industry Overwhelmed, contained a number of key passages, but it also contained several useful search terms that led to additional evidence. One specific clue that the article provided was the name of an organization I’d never before encountered, the National Coal Policy Conference (NCPC) and the name of one of its early leaders, Joseph Moody.
That group was established in 1959 and dissolved in 1971. While it lasted, it was a unique grouping of mining companies, railroads, the United Mine Workers of America, electric power utilities and mining equipment manufacturers. The issue that brought these often contentious groups together was a focused effort to promote the increased use of coal in competition with residual oil, natural gas and atomic energy.
Reading books and articles about epic battles over energy markets that date back to several years before I was born has been an interesting way to spend the past couple of days. I know – I’m an odd bird.
On February 10, 1958, the New York Times published an article titled ATOM POWER ASSAILED: Southern Coal Producers Ask U. S. to End Program that described how a coal lobby group engaged in a specific political action to stop the Atomic Energy Commission from funding commercial power development. That opening gambit did not succeed and it did not win the coal industry lobbyists any friends on the Joint Committee for Atomic Energy. Here are some key quotes:
The Southern Coal Producers Association called on Congress today to end the civilian atomic power development program of the Atomic Energy Commission.
Joseph S. Moody, head of the group, said the commission’s power development program had been a “dismal failure,” “completely unnecessary,” a dissipation of the nation’s scientific and technical manpower and a heavy tax burden on the American people.
[Chet Holifield] “predicted that coal interests would be ‘no more successful in stemming the progress toward the development of an economic atomic power than they have been in trying to stop the use of natural gas.'”
Several years later, Mr. Moody, now the president of a larger organization dedicated to increasing coal sales, was involved in another political action to reduce subsidies. Here is a quote from a UPI article titled Atom-Power Delay Urged On Congress:
Washington, July 13 (UPI) — The National Coal Policy Conference asked Congress today to delay approval of three proposed civilian nuclear power plants on the grounds that Government subsidization of them was against the public interest.
More than $42,400,000 has been appropriated for the plants, Joseph Moody, the conference president said. But no one has “clearly established” the need or justification for the subsidies, he said.
Mr. Moody also questioned what effect subsidization would have on the coal industry.
In a book by Brian Balogh titled Chain Reaction: Expert debate and public participation in American commercial nuclear power, 1945-1975 (Cambridge University Press, 1991) there is a passage indicating even earlier interest.
At its inception, the program to develop commercial nuclear power did not fit the iron-triangle model, even as adjusted for the contingencies of the New Deal. Interest groups were more of an afterthought than a crucial catalyst. A massive wartime effort inadvertently created a technology that might prove to be of great social and economic value. Owing to its sudden introduction and the uncertainty that clouded its potential uses, support for — or, for that matter, opposition to — its development remained poorly defined.
Coal interests were perhaps the only group that was not ambivalent. The “coal boys” saw no possible good coming their way and opposed the development of nuclear power from the start. [pp 64-65]
(Note: The above passage contains a footnote mentioning a paper titled “The Coal Boys Attempt to Split the Atomic Lobby: A Tale of Two Technologies and Government Policy in the 1960s,” which was presented to the annual meeting of the History of Science Society in October 1987. I have been unable to locate that document, if anyone can help me find it, I would be grateful.)
The coal interests effort to slow or halt the subsidized power reactor program continued throughout the 1960s. A New York Times article dated June 17, 1964, titled Coal-State Senator Opposes Subsidies For Atomic Power leads with the following paragraph:
Senator Robert C. Byrd, asserting that nuclear fuel now threatened coal as an energy source, urged an end yesterday to the Government subsidy for atomic power plants.
In the keynote address of the annual convention of the National Coal Association being held here, the West Virginia Democrat said the subsidies were not necessary or desirable because there had been drastic reductions in the cost of constructing nuclear generating stations.
Senator Byrd, who represents the largest bituminous coal producing state, called for other Government moves to shield coal from what he termed unfair competition.
In a letter to the editor of the New York Times dated September 25, 1964, NCPC’s Joseph Moody made the following statement:
The Government should stabilize residual oil imports at or near present levels, stop subsidizing civilian nuclear power which, as now subsidized, competes in coal’s major growth market — electric utilities — and negotiate aggressively to remove barriers which prevent coal from achieving its full potential in the export market.
Coal is Appalachia’s largest resource and industry. It can become even larger, if given the opportunity, and be a source of many thousands of urgently needed new jobs.
The effort to stop favorable fuel leasing arrangements and backdoor subsidies provided by generously valuing the plutonium produced while operating a commercial reactor was part of a push to convince the Atomic Energy Commission to declare that light water reactors were sufficiently well-proven to be declared to be of “practical value.” If the AEC made that determination, it would force utilities to apply for licenses under section 103, which applies to commercial reactors rather than under section 104, which only applies to demonstration reactors.
While the Atomic Energy Commission had the authority under section 104 to waive fuel lease charges, provide direct subsidies, and provide other research and development services for free, it did not have that authority for commercial nuclear power plants licensed under section 103. Before finding Balogh’s Chain Reaction, I was not aware that all of the reactors ordered before 1970 were licensed under section 104(b) as demonstration reactors because the AEC believed that there were too many cost and operational uncertainties to declare them to be of “practical value.”
Nuclear power projects that were licensed as demonstration reactors received one more benefit that helped to speed the process of getting them approved, but also created a whole new class of opponents. The process for obtaining a section 104 license did not pass through the office of the Attorney General for a review to ensure that it did not violate provisions of the antitrust laws. That facet of the “practical value” controversy raised the ire of small companies, the public power cooperatives, and their political allies.
Balogh devotes a considerable amount of space to the long-running discussion within the AEC about the determination of “practical value”. He describes how there was an entire series of memos (the AEC 152 series) that provided detailed arguments justifying the Commission’s reluctance to declare a whole class of reactors to be commercial; the staff position was that each project needed to be judged on a case-by-case basis. Professional staff members also recommended that the Commission wait to obtain operational data over a sufficient period of time before making the determination that reactors were practical.
Aside: That suggestion was eminently sensible. If it had been more publicly discussed and taken on board by the utilities and manufacturers, perhaps nuclear technology would have been developed on a more sustainable trajectory. End Aside.
Coal industry representatives, including Stephen Dunn, president of the National Coal Association (NCA), Brice O’Brien, the NCA’s general counsel, Joseph Moody, president of NCPC, and Philip Sporn, the chairman System Development Committee of American Electric Power, play a prominent role in Balogh’s analysis of the issue and the way it was finally resolved. Here is a sample quote:
Moody [president of NCPC] demanded an immediate halt to the subsidies. He called on the Atomic Energy Commission to declare that reactors were of “practical value.” “There can be no question that they are of ‘practical value’ — or else they would not be built to supply commercial power,” Moody fumed. He also demanded that the AEC charge the market rate for the commercial use of fuel, increase charges for other AEC-subsidized services, and eliminate government-guaranteed indemnification under the Price-Anderson Act. As the National Coal Association’s general counsel, Brice O’Brien, put it, “Thermal reactors have reached the point where they should be placed in the mainstream of commerce to stand on their own feet without the artificial stimulation and artificial distortion of taxpayer-financed subsidies.”
(Balogh, Chain Reaction, p. 208)
(Note: The context places this demand in early 1964.)
Here is another quote that demonstrates that coal interests continued to press the issue.
Rebuffed in 1965, the coal boys were back again in 1966. They cited another flurry of reactor announcements, and continued AEC statements citing the competitive advantages of nuclear power.
The “practical value” issue was finally resolved in December 1970, with legislation that prevented nuclear plants licensed under section 104 from generating more than 50% of their annual operating expenses from the sale of commercial electricity. That provision convinced utilities to use the section 103 process for commercial power plants.
A book by J. Samuel Walker titled Containing the Atom: Nuclear Regulation in a Changing Environment, 1963-1971 (University of California Press, 1992) (available for a bargain price of $1,981.46 per copy), adds a discussion about the coal industry’s efforts to prevent the renewal of the Price-Anderson Act, which was passed in 1957 as a temporary measure with a ten year sunset provision. That effort was part of “what Nucleonics Week called ‘no-holds-barred opposition to [the] AEC’s civilian nuclear power program.'” (p. 116)
As the dispute escalated, the coal lobby added Price-Anderson to its list of complaints about nuclear power. After the AEC proposed its amendment to resolve Jersey Central’s concerns about the expiration of the indemnity law, coal interests seized the opportunity to voice their objections. They argued not only that Price-Anderson was an unwarranted and improper subsidy for the nuclear industry, but also tweaked nuclear proponents by questioning why it was necessary. In March 1964, Congressman John P. Saylor, who represented bituminous coal regions in western Pennsylvania, introduced his own amendment to Price-Anderson. In contrast to the AEC’s measure, his bill provided that a nuclear plant would not be covered by the indemnity law unless it received an operating license by 1 August 1967. “The atomic energy industry insists that atomic powerplants are safe and…the Atomic Energy Commission supports this claim,” he declared. “Under the circumstances, there is no reason for the tax-paying public…to be forced to underwrite insurance for a commercial venture.”
(Walker, Containing the Atom, p. 117)
John W. Johnson’s Insuring Against Disaster: The Nuclear Industry on Trial (Mercer University Press, 1986) contains a similar discussion about the coal industry’s successful efforts to label Price-Anderson as an unfair subsidy while being unsuccessful in stopping its passage and renewal. Here’s a sample quote:
…the most visible elements of controversy in the nuclear indemnity-insurance debate were injected by the National Coal Association (NCA) and allied pro-coal forces. In the congressional hearings and debates over the original Price-Anderson bill in 1956 and 1957, the coal interests presented only weak resistance to indemnity and limitation-of-liability legislation. In the 1960s, however, the “coal dust” swirled around the Price-Anderson extension deliberations at nearly every stage. In essence, the coal interests used this debate as an occasion for a multifront attack on nuclear power.
The NCA’s main criticisms of Price-Anderson were twofold: 1) that the amount of liability insurance provided by the act and its proposed extension was too low, particularly given the $7 billion upper-limit damage figure noted in WASH-740 in 1957 and probably exceeded in 1964-1965 because of the larger size of the new nuclear plants; and 2) that the freedom from liability suits in the nuclear industry provided no incentive to improve the safety engineering of reactors. The second criticism is one version of the argument — often heard in the 1960s — that the Price-Anderson Act was a subsidy for the nuclear industry.
(Johnson, Insuring Against Disaster, pp. 62-63)
I want to again emphasize that all of the above noted efforts were a part of a broad industry campaign, led by designated trade association representatives engaged in a legitimate and open effort to halt government practices seen as unfairly influencing a competitive and lucrative commodity market. It was widely reported within the trade and general business press and fully understood by both private industry and government officals.
A June 20, 1966 New York Times article titled Coal Vs. The Atom: Battle Is Joined includes the following passages:
Washington, June 19 — Coal vs. the atom — a slowly developing battle that has suddenly intensified — will draw the attention of the coal industry’s top strategists here this week.
They are the leaders of the 5,000 coal producing companies, gathering for the National Coal Association’s annual meeting, which began today.
The battle is sure to mean cheaper electricity for the consumer.
Coal lost the most important single skirmish in its battle last Friday when the Tennessee Valley Authority chose the atom to provide power for what will be the world’s largest nuclear powered electrical plant.
Coal still fires the plants that produce 52 per cent of the nation’s electricity. The demand for electrical power will more than triple from 1960 to 1980, according to the Federal Power Commission.
But the inroads beginning to be made by nuclear power have set off what Joseph E. Moody, president of the National Coal Policy Conference, Inc. called, “the most strenuous competitive struggle of this generation.”
Coal is down to its fighting trim, having just spent more than a decade automating and streamlining its production and transportation methods to recover losses in the railroad industry and home heating markets to diesel oil and natural gas.
By the end of the 1960s, however, the coal industry groups arrayed to slow down the growth of nuclear energy began backing out of the fight. My interpretation is that they recognized that their efforts to publicize concerns about rapid nuclear energy growth had attracted other recruits to the battle. In the spirit of the times, they recognized that their efforts could be readily dismissed as special interest pleadings, while the new recruits could bring more energy and persuasive arguments to the battle.
A New York Times article published on January 11, 1970 titled Coal Power Gets Assist From Youth provides support for that interpretation. Here is the lede from that article:
The coal industry ended the Sixties in a cheering mood as it watched nuclear plant orders fall far behind the previous two years. It also grew optimistic as conservationists began probing into possible thermal effects of nuclear plants and youth groups started to single out nuclear power as a target akin to napalm.
A March 1, 1971 article by Ben A. Franklin titled Union-Management Conference in Coal Industry Is Dissolved documents the demise of the National Coal Policy Conference. It lists three separate pressures that pulled the organization apart, but it also includes what might be considered a “mission accomplished” passage.
The conference spent its first years battling the well-advertized advent of atomic electrical power, a threat to coal that some power economists here believe did not materialize on schedule in part because of the conference’s opposition.
Though the organized and open efforts by coal interests to slow the development of nuclear energy faded away more than forty years ago, the arguments that they introduced continue to appear on the lists of talking points against the technology. That remains the case even in relation to policies and programs that were substantially modified decades ago so that they no longer provide the unfair benefits that they once did.
I wonder how many of the people who repeat the antinuclear talking points about nuclear power subsidies and Price-Anderson liability limits know that they are supporting corporations in the business of extracting and moving massive quantities of coal?
Nuclear Power Economics–Analysis and Comments–1964 Prepared for the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy by Philip Sporn, chairman, System Development Committee, American Electric Power Co.
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Wow, there is not so much “conspiracy theory” about it at all. They fought nuclear to promote coal. It was out there waiting to be remembered all along.
Would anyone be surprised if there was a more recent connection to climate denial as well? :
Climate Denier Steve Milloy Now Director at Coal Giant Murray Energy, On CPAC Global Warming Panel Today
Milloy appears on the roster of attendees at a White House meeting last Halloween, according to an Office of Management and Budget meeting log from Oct. 31, 2013. Milloy, appearing on behalf of Murray Energy Corp, was part of the coal industry coalition pushing back against efforts to improve mine safety rules protecting workers from respirable coal dust that can cause black lung disease, according to documents supplied at the meeting.
I have writteb fairly extensively about the issues of nuclear safety and nuclear technology during this period on Nuclear Green. The conflict within the pro-nuclear community was bitter. I hope to be able to offer a more extensive comment later.
Of course to assume that what the coal industry was complaining about was unfair you’ve got to assume that coal wasn’t being subsidised when it was allowed to spew all that pollution into the air.
Or the water, land, and worker’s lungs.
Rod – does section 104 licensing still exist?
However, a true demonstration reactor, with no intention of calling it commercial, would have to use section 104(c) vice the 104(b) that was available until December 1970.
With a prototype/demonstration and testing reactor, section 104(c) is appropriate as long as the following condition from 50.22 is met:
“Provided that in the case of a production or utilization facility which is useful in the conduct of research and development activities of the types specified in section 31 of the Act, such facility is deemed to be for industrial or commercial purposes if the facility is to be used so that more than 50 percent of the annual cost of owning and operating the facility is devoted to the production of materials, products, or energy for sale or commercial distribution, or to the sale of services, other than research and development or education or training.”
A prototype under section 104(c) is okay as long as less than 50% of the annual cost of owning and operating the facility comes from commercial sales of anything other than R&D or training.
Thanks Rod. I find it interesting that the requirement is “less than 50% of the annual cost”, not “less than 50% of the annual revenue”…since partitioning capital costs is simply accounting and there is a lot of discretion permitted. It sounds like a GenIV demonstration reactor could be built under 104(c) and sell all of its power on the grid, so long as there is significant training activities (e.g. training students in safety and operations of this type of reactor). The training will be sorely needed to…
As someone who has working on both the fossil and nuclear side I think I have a fairly good explanation of why nuclear has stagnated over the past three decades. Talking points published by the coal industry don’t amount to a hill of beans if the economics of nuclear weren’t so schizophrenic.
The environmentalists and political left who have fought against nuclear power don’t care about subsidies or Price-Anderson. To them, commercial nuclear power is poisoned fruit of the nuclear weapon programs. While I certainly don’t agree with them, they see nuclear energy and nuclear weapons as inextricably linked and view the commercial nuclear industry as being a wholly owned subsidiary of nuclear weapons development. Nothing is going to change their irrational objections.
In my mind the sole responsibility for the lackluster state of US commercial nuclear power resides almost exclusively with the old monopoly utility model and those who managed it. When utilities were building reactors they allowed costs to balloon and schedules to slide. In large part, they didn’t care because no matter how over budget they were, there were never any consequences for the utilities. They would go back to the ratepayer and get more money for their own failures at managing these projects. The incentives for managing the risks involved in large capital projects like nukes didn’t apply and the results should not have surprised anyone. Granted, incidents like TMI and the NRC’s overreaction to the didn’t help, but at the end of the day project managers and project directs should have taken more responsibility for their failures and utility executives should have understood the risks … that’s what they are paid for.
Its my opinion that the future of nuclear power hinges on two things: SMR’s and Vogtle.
Vogtle 3&4 are a bit behind schedule and a bit over budget, but if this project can be completed without significant overruns it will be a good sign that the principals have learned the lessons of the past and can manage large projects like this in a regulatory environment that acts like quicksand for the unprepared. Once a reliable baseline has been established and contractors have shown they can complete these projects on time and within their budgets lots of utilities will be eager to expand their nuclear profiles.
As for SMR’s, I think it’s the responsibility of the government to jumpstart this. Imagine if the DOD ordered a few SMR’s for some of their larger or more remote bases. They wouldn’t have to worry about permits or approved designs from the NRC and they could provide contractors and suppliers to test the waters with designs, construction and budgets. Once that’s established, they could show the marketplace just how competitive they could be.
“In my mind the sole responsibility for the lackluster state of US commercial nuclear power resides almost exclusively with the old monopoly utility model and those who managed it.”
Some arguments can be taken in the opposite direction. A deregulated power industry has less focus on the long term needs of the customer since conditions will always be in a state of turmoil. Th einterest is in shorter term profit. The monopoly model allows long term central planning. It lets the investors be certain that there will be an honest return to that new nuclear plant. The short term thinking of the deregulated market does not allow this to happen. Strong regulation by good appointed PUC members assure that the long term investments of the monopoly utility serve the best interests of the common good.
When it comes to deregulation, capacity factors at nuclear plants skyrocketed.
Capacity Factors skyrocketed – They used what they had as no new units were built. I’m certainly not saying using the nukes to their full capacity was wrong, but they had to wring all the margin out of existing supply.
If i had 10 billion dollars, i’d try to invest it in a sure thing rather than rely on an unpredictable market. I’d look at the history of merchant plants and put my money elsewhere.
Solar returns about 9% a year up to 22% per year in some limited markets like Hawaii where a kWH costs 36 cents.
Nuclear plants bought at firesale prices of $180M cannot compete, and are being closed. Why would nuclear at $16B have any chance of making a good investment? The BEST case scenario is a 2% return, AFTER waiting 6 years of ZERO returns.
The economics are clear in this regard.
Capacity factors also improved rather dramatically in systems that are still regulated. Southern Company, Duke, Dominion, Next Era, Entergy all operate plants in regulated service areas that perform as well as those in deregulated service areas.
Yeah, but nowhere near as much as in the merchant operators.
I’m starting to look at just what led to short term thinking on Wall St. I don’t know that deregulation is entirely the reason. About the same time politicians were spouting the deregulation mantra, the national debt blew out of proportion. This meant long term investors were drawn to T bills and other government investments instead of “widows and orphans” dividend stocks. This, along with changes in the tax codes that made it much harder to depreciate capital expenses, seems to have halted long term investment in infrastructure such as telecom networks. Instead of wholesale rebuilds that can only happen with a very long term payback, we get minor incremental improvements with short (18 months or less) paybacks.
Don’t know if there’s any real connection, but it makes for some interesting armchair research.
I’ve got a gut feel it can be traced back to one word, “greed.” And I don’t agree with Gordon Gecko.
I see Senator Robert C. Byrd figures prominently in the post above for his opposition to nuclear energy and his support for coal. He was a senator from January 3, 1959 to June 28, 2010. He held his office for fifty years – a half century! The people repeatedly voted for him. He was Democrat. The Democrats still generally oppose nuclear power, not that Republican lip service is much better. But the people get what they deserve – a half century of voting for this man and others like him.
That there aren’t congressional term limits is a bit of a failure of American government, in my opinion.
Amen, Joel Riddle, Amen!
Be careful what you wish for; by far the longest-serving politicians at all levels are Southern Conservative Christian Republicans, the most conservative of the Conservative. And the most progressive of the Liberals are relative newcomers — not Harry Reid, but Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken (who is also pro-nuclear).
Most conservative Christian Republicans support nuclear energy, unlike liberal progressive Democrats such as Mario and his son Andy Cuomo. And it has been liberals who more than any other political group have opposed nuclear energy. That Byrd was a Southern Baptist is an aberration. Most liberal politicians like the anti-nuclear Cuomos are faux Catholics raised in the smoke and mirrors of the spirit of Vatican II without any adherence to the actual Vatican II documents themselves (which by the way I have read- the set makes quite a volume and the Latin is impeccable.) That these Democrat politicians are anti-nuclear is completely incidental to their wholesale apostasy and heresy with regard to non-negotionable matters of 2000 years of faith, morals, doctrine and dogma.
PS, I favor term limits for all politicians regardless of political party or religious faith. Politics should not be a vocation.
“Politics should not be a vocation”
Ain’t real constructive as an obsession, either, Paul.
This is an example when the debate heated up in Australia in 2007 (used as an election issue unfortunately):
It’s interesting considering the current opposition to coal use in Australia is coming from groups that do not support Nuclear power when the actual industry has explicitly said that supporting it would impact the industry severely. Although I think there was an exaggeration. Power generation coal yes, but steel coal no.
Today due to the EPA, coal is like nuclear. It has to adhere to strict regulations to stay in business.
Lots of money has been spent investigating clean coal technologies including the sequestering of carbon. The Obama administration’s EPA has said that new coal plants must limit their output of Carbon Dioxide. Maybe, they will continue to beat nuclear and actually develop the technology. Necessity is the mother of invention.
I know how they could do it. They could hide a small modular nuclear reactor inside one of those big boilers.
Anne Lauvergeon is joining Rio Tinto’s board.
Expect Uranium acquisition and-or action.
Here is the link:
Hmmmm……speaking of mining, I ran across this article.
ISL? Sounds remarkably similiar to fracking.
Is the uranium mining industry like most mining industries; destructive, and indifferent to the locals affected by the rape of thier environment?
“Dewey-Burdock aims to extract 8.4 million pounds of uranium, worth about $546 million, using ‘in situ leaching’, or ISL. It’s a relatively new technology that’s theoretically cleaner than open-cast mining”
“Rather than blasting and bulldozing huge holes in the ground, ISL mines use a fracking-style process to inject huge amounts of chemical-laced water deep underground. The water dissolves the uranium ore, and is then pumped back to the surface so that the metal can be extracted and refined”
“Powertech has sought permission to use about 9,000 gallons of water per minute for ISL injection at Dewey-Burdock, Jarding notes – more than is used by nearby Rapid City, pop. 70,000, where city councillors recently passed a resolution expressing their “grave concern” over the mine’s water use.”
“Pumping that much contaminated water through poorly understood rock formations brings inevitable risks, Jarding says, especially since the site is already riddled with around 4,000 boreholes from past mining operations.”
Also ISL isn’t “new.” It’s being used across the US to mine uranium. The latest US ISL mined is in Wyoming. It’s Lost Creek and it’s owned by Ur-Energy. I toured the site in November.
We know that the mining industry has a shitty track record. That isn’t news. But to suggest that nothing has changed is to ignore the reality. Not all mining companies are evil. Arguable, the less evolved a mining company is, the less profitable is going to be, going forward.
I posted about this at the end of the comments thread.
ISL mining leaves almost nothing on the surface. First, the uranium is mobilized so it dissolves in water, then it’s pumped up a production well and captured in ion-exchange media. After the uranium is removed, the water can be returned to its original state. The water is recirculated.
But the rock fissures are still subjected to pressurization, much like fracking, right?
No it’s nothing like fracking as the deposits are usually in sandstone paleochannels so there is a high permeability for the fluid to work in.
They pump down a solution tailored to the fluid the uranium is hosted in (acidic if alkaline, alkaline if acidic), and the pregnant solution (i.e. contains uranium) is pumped to a processing station. The pressure is just enough to move the fluid to the extraction wells.
In-situ Leaching (ISL) or In-situ Recovery (ISR) is the most sustainable and environmentally friendly method to mine uranium. The source that is targeted is often high in salinity (not suitable for consumption) and radioactive. ISR operators ensure that the flow is monitored with monitoring wells and consistent monitoring of the pressures.
It’s more like conventional gas extraction as the fluid flows freely once it is tapped, even when they have to recirculate CO2 or another fluid into a gas deposit to force the last remaining economical gas out of a reservoir.
@POA, yes it would be nice to get the truth about the mining process without clear lies to make it seem less dangerous.
Just a month or two back was a serious accident at a mine in Africa, a repeat accident.
Andrea…thanks for your response. As you were posting, coincidentally, I was further researching the history of uranium mining, (which ain’t too complimentary nationally, and quite damning, globally).
I also noted Rod’s recent posting….
Unable to view the video, the only thing I took away from it was the realization that what small iota of respect I had for Brian Mays disintegrated when I read his comments. On another thread it is mentioned by Rod the importance of understanding that other fields of science, such as sociology, must be employed in the “marketing” and advancement of nuclear energy. And I add that psychology is yet another science it would be wise to employ. Brian’s indifference and callous dismissal of the hardships the Navajos have suffered due to uranium mining on Navajo lands can arguably be described as the sentiments of a bigot. He truly underscores the importance of presentation, and understanding what exactly has so alienated nuclear energy from people that have little or no understanding of the actual science. If it ain’t the science that has put them off, than what is it? Well, a couple of the posters at this site provide some of the answer, simply by thier manner of engagement.
So when a poster such as yourself comes forward with an attempt at technical clarification that isn’t patronizing, antagonistic, or purposely insulting, it incites further research and investigation, which, if your argument is offered honestly, works in the favor of your argument.
I’ll examine the sites you suggested.
“After the uranium is removed, the water can be returned to its original state.”
What reading I’ve done these last 24 hrs., seems to kinda destroy that premise. In fact, it seems it is actually impossible to return the water to its “original state”. Hence the regulations require water to be returned to its “original USE”.
“Texas historically allows uranium mining companies to amend the levels of minerals in restored groundwater once mining operations are complete said Jim Blackburn, Goliad County’s lawyer concerning uranium mining.”
“These levels are routinely greater than those established during the mining permit process, Blackburn told the commissioners court.”
“According to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality records, 51 requests for “amended restoration tables to make them higher” have been granted out of 80 uranium mining production areas. The data include uranium mining permits issued during the last “20 or 30 years,” Blackburn said.”
““I think this study is quite important in terms of giving you information about what the past practices have been. I think this is a reason for concern about the mining process and the certainty about the administration of the mining process so far by the state,” Blackburn said.”
“A UEC statement contends the company “is committed to meet or exceed all applicable environmental regulations in restoration of Goliad County recovery sites, a process that is carefully monitored by responsible state authorities.””
“The state commission sets restoration values for groundwater after mining. Restoration values may be amended from the original permit and are subject to public notice and contested hearings, said Lisa Wheeler, a state commission spokeswoman.”
“Blackburn said the state agency’s track record is consistent.”
““Not a single request to make the clean-up level values higher has ever been denied, according to the records we have researched so far,” Blackburn said.”
“Seeking clarification, Goliad County Commissioner Ted Long asked, “So at 51 out of 80 mine sites, the water is worse than it was before it started?””
“Blackburn confirmed the numbers.”
“Of the 29 remaining mine sites, many still operate and don’t yet have final restoration values. Blackburn said he thinks this is the most comprehensive report ever compiled on uranium mining restoration.”
“Nuclear Regulatory Commission official and uranium mining executive acknowledge restoration of aquifer to baseline is unachievable”
“Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission agendas from 1990s reveal that relaxing water cleanup standards is routine”
I wouldn’t be using the fluid for anything other than Uranium extraction.
Seems theres a back story here that isn’t seeing the light of day when nuclear advocates use fossil fuel environmental accidents as an argument. What digging I’ve done into uranium mining seems to indicate that there is a somewhat less than stellar history, that is not devoid of its fair share of environmental carnage, a lack of concern for affected citizens, resultant suits and legal actions, and a marketing campaign that is less than honest.
If you are seeking perfection, then uranium mining will fall short of your expectations. If you go back in time, you will find practices that are less safe and effective than the ones in place today.
The overall record of the industry, especially recently, compares favorably with other mining and energy fuels extraction efforts.
In many cases, uranium is just one of several elements being extracted. It is often not the target element whose extraction processes at a given mine cause the most environmental damage.
“If you are seeking perfection, then uranium mining will fall short of your expectations”
Nothing is perfect. What I DO expect is an honest presentation of the facts. Statements such as “After the uranium is removed, the water can be returned to its original state” is not such a presentation. It purposely glosses over the truth. Worse, it takes very little investigation to discover such a statement as being purposely disingenuous. Some of us are not idiots. We just want the truth.
Uranium extraction is necessary. If the process has warts, then they need to be included in any honest presentation of the process. It doesn’t instill confidence or trust whan a nuclear energy advocate offers a flowery description of a process that differs from the actual reality of that process.
Particularly disturbing is the manner that our indigenous peoples have been treated by the uranium mining entities. These people have suffered enough injustice and hardship in our theft of thier continent. Do we need to continue to rain travesties down on these people?
Also, very disturbing, is this constant presentation of the nuclear energy process as being devoid of the kind of environmental damage that we see occur during coal or oil extraction. Granted, the extraction of uranium has not wrought the scale of environmental carnage that oil or coal extraction has. But certainly, environmental carnage, deaths, and social damage has occured in this step of the process of manufacturing nuclear energy. Hypocricy doesn’t make for a very credible argument, and it would be constructive to see it ommitted from the nuclear energy pitch.
All mining involves two processes:
1. digging the ore containing the mineral you want out of the ground
2. separating the mineral from the host ore
Step 1 is the “mining,” and step 2 is “milling.”
ISL isn’t like fracking because uranium isn’t like oil.
The uranium that is being mined via ISL exists in big deposits.
The oil that is being extracted via fracking does NOT sit in big pools underground waiting to be freed. Instead it’s being squeezed out, from inside the rocks, where it sits in pores and cracks.
I don’t know whether chemicals are actually injected into the host rock in fracking.
ISL is a closed system that uses that baking powder and water, plus pressure and gravity, to push uranium out of its location (step 1) and up into a processing plant where, yes, the evil chemicals separate the uranium from the host rock in an industrial process (step 2).
But chemicals are not–NOT–injected underground to flush out the uranium in ISL mining in the US. That is a fact. No “evil stuff” is used to remove the uranium from the host rock underground.
You might want to check out the websites of Cameco USA or Ur-Energy for more on ISL. Cameco’s site has a cool graphic that explains the process.
With respect to “restoring the acquifers to baseline” let me just say this: those acquifers aren’t drinkable to begin with.
The baseline contains all kinds of naturally occurring, toxic elements that were put there by (1) a supreme being; (2) the big bang and geologically processes over 5 billion years; or (3) aliens.
You’re assuming the baseline levels are rainbows and unicorns. They aren’t. The articles you quote also make that same insinuation. The truth is that a lot of underground water on planet earth is not potable, but is instead poisonous, contaminated with naturally occurring arsenic, lead, uranium, etc., and needs to be treated before human beings, animals and plants can drink it without killing themselves.
What I think you’re referring to and the articles are referring to is the waste water that results from the chemical processing (step 2), not the actual mining (step 1).
The waste water is treated, then injected deep underground, into acquifers that were already “bad.”
The union of concerned shills is once again deeply concerned about serving their masters.
In the comments section, there is a notification that the Nuclear Engineering PhDs at berkley will be doing an AmA (Ask me Anything) later on in the Science subreddit (www.reddit.com/r/science).
None of the people who are tagged as Nuclear physicists or engineers, and general physicists are not happy with Ed’s responses to comments. Ed signed off comments with EL, David with DL.
Reddit is fairly pro-nuclear and very pro-msr/lftrs. You can see that responses to questions that were good have been upvoted (community voting) higher than the UCS responses on certain topics.
UCS pretty much concluded that we need to make existing reactors safer and not build anymore. They are playing a long game of attrition, whereas the others Gundersen et al. are playing the short obfuscation game.
Interesting subject, and in the vein of subject material (history, science, politics and economics) I like to research too.
Thought I would ‘park’ this link here, it is a Google search on the term “The Coal Boys Attempt to Split the Atomic Lobby” and no doubt Rod has already seen this tidbit with his own eyes:
Thank you. As you suspected, I just came across that passage. My copy of Balogh’s “Chain Reaction” arrived yesterday. It’s a fascinating history story.
People should’ve known about all this ten years ago. The mainstream media easily could’ve stumbled across this stuff and publized it while searching for ammo to help hammer 9-inch nails into greenhouse coal, but they hate nuclear as an alternate energy way more. Silence begots ignorance.
No doubt M. Its not like it was hidden or even would be difficult for a news organization to dig up.
@Mitch March 8, 2014 at 4:56 PM
If I can get a little philosophical here, “People should’ve known about all this ten years ago”… Do you remember what the country was obsessed with 10 years ago? It certainly wasn’t coal or nuke power. You really have to go back 2 or 3 generations to unravel the problem, which Rod is doing. “The mainstream media easily could’ve stumbled across this stuff and publized (sic) it…” Stumbled across? It was staring them right in the face. Click the Google Books link at “_Jim March 7, 2014 at 11:46 PM “, and read the cited references as well as the publication dates. You wouldn’t suppose the same folks who own the MSM also own the fossil fuel companies directly and your “democracy” indirectly would you? As far as “news” goes, just this week I read a good report on the NC Dan River coal ash spill on the Al Jajeera news site (a comment sure to light some people on fire). The real problem is there really is no “news” and hasn’t been for a long time; that’s why Rod’s efforts are so valuable. “Silence begots ignorance”; I’ll add “and vice versa.” We really have become a society mostly driven by ideological beliefs and that’s a hard nut to crack in an accurate information vacuum. But I think that was “the plan.”
Also, let me just say that in 10,000 years of human history, the default “answer” to trash and waste has been to throw it outside or dump it into the nearest available body of water.
Up until, say, 100-150 years ago, with the dawn of the industrial age, we started to realize that that “answer” wasn’t going to cut it anymore.
Arguably, up until 50-60 years, when rivers downstream from industrial plants started to glow and catch fire, there wasn’t much wide-spread public concern.
Now we know better. Now we know that we have to treat the environment with respect and clean up after ourselves, because human beings actually do need Earth.
The mining industry has been responsible for a lot of environmental damage. The very nature of it requires destruction. But the kind of wholesale desecration that used to go on is not allowed in the developed world.
The uranium mining industry in the US does not have a clean track record and there have been a couple of huge spills involving mill tailings. The US government has been very slow in cleaning up and reclaiming the sites.
At the same time, there are also several reclaimed uranium and milling sites all over the southwestern US. In early February I toured many of them and saw the cleanup first hand.
I can also say that uranium mining/milling processes have not remained static–no mining/milling processes have–and have improved dramatically.
In the US we now have a pretty solid record. The record in Canada is stellar. http://www.nuclearsafety.gc.ca/eng/uranium/mines-and-mills/index.cfm
Mining is ugly. But it is a fundamental necessity. Everything human civilization has comes from the ground. We can continuously strive to do it better–but we have to continue to do it.
As usual, when it comes to science and industrial processes the American public is absolutely disconnected from reality. The articles you cite are great examples of that. I’d be happy to answer your questions on uranium mining if you have them. If I can’t I know plenty of people who can.
Well, the quite permissive regulatory measures in New Mexico, (regarding groundwater), instituted by an official that is blatantly pro-mining industry, doesn’t exactly instill confidence that we’ve learned from past mistakes.
What is worrisome to me, is that many of these mining companies are engaged globally, in many “underdeveloped” countries, therefore not subject to the kind of regulatory checks they may be subject to in Canada or the United States. The manufacture of nuclear energy begins in the gound. Any representation of the technology as being “clean” or environmentally friendly must include the full process of delivering nuclear energy. If the mining industry can mine without environmental constraints, they have proven time and again thats exactly what they’ll do.
So. Ok. Perhaps we’re cleaning it up here in the states, (although the ground water regs in New Mexico don’t imply so)……but how are these uranium mining operations being ran in third world underdeveloped countries, where profits can be increased exponentially by the absence of constraining regulations? History doesn’t portend an encouraging answer.
BTW, Andrea, I mistakingly posted a response to your earlier comment upthread from where it should have appeared.
Mining is either done safely or it isn’t–whether in the first world or third world underdeveloped countries; the mineral that is being mined is actually irrelevant. Either govts are responsive and insist that mining is done right or they don’t. Does that make sense?
Here’s an example: U mining is a big deal in Namibia, and Namibia–which is not like any other country in Africa because it’s a functioning democracy–has the same kind of regulations and oversight as in other first world countries. The country can’t afford for the mining to be done badly.
With respect to the Navajos, yes, the US government (the old timey Atomic Energy Commission) eff’ed up and lied, told uranium miners “not to worry,” even though the AEC knew better. There have been terrible accidents that are only now being cleaned up.
But here’s the thing: it wasn’t only Native Americans that worked in those government mines. No, “the white man” was also affected. While this is one more example of the US government lying to Native Americans the US government lied to everyone.
(Also, not all Native Americans are reflexively anti-uranium mining. It varies, depending on the tribe. Even within tribes there are sharp differences of opinion. The Navajos are actually a perfect example.)
Uranium Resources Inc., which owns the Hydro Resources subsidiary that has been trying to mine uranium on the Churchrock property in New Mexico that was also the site of a terrible tailings spill in 1979, is as we speak working with Navajo leaders and Navajo tribal agencies to do testing and cleanup, in order to be able to mine on a nearby property.
Progress is being made:
You might want to check out the URI website which has a great explanation of ISR–and one of the company’s principals, Mark Pelizza, helped to pioneer the use of nontoxic lixivants in the ISR process. http://www.uraniumresources.com/projects/ISR-technology
Also, I’m “pretty sure” that the EPA finally received the funding to get moving on cleanup at Navajo reservation sites. But don’t quote me on that.
There are, literally, hundreds of abandoned “mines,” on the reservation–some of which might be a site where the uranium was close to the surface and a few enterprising people with a backhoe and a pickup truck dug out the ore and delivered it to the AEC. Yes. That really did happen.
Personally I think it’s despicable that it’s taken the stupid government and the courts decades to clean the crap up. It actually isn’t a difficult process; there’s just red tape and liabilities and bankrupt companies, blah, blah, blah. I’ve encouraged my colleagues in the US uranium mining industry to lead the charge, but they have been super reluctant, for obvious reasons.
It’s also worth noting that the Navajo tribal leaders are not immune to the same kinds of financial decision-making as many other leaders. They have been willing accomplices in efforts to fight nuclear energy on environmental grounds while also being heavily involved in some of the largest and dirtiest coal mining and coal power plant operations in the western US.
Here is a link to a nine-year-old Atomic Insights post on the matter.
One more thing: those old timey uranium mines operated by the old timey AEC weren’t ventilated. Ergo, inhalation of bad stuff. AND smoking was allowed. *facepalm*
I just toured an underground uranium mine, where mining was taking place while I was there. VENTILATION.
That’s the industry standard now.
I can’t speak to the GW regs in N.M.–and of course pro-mining lawmakers are going to fight it–but at least in uranium land we have to clean up EVERYTHING.
I can say I’ve been underground in one too. The procedure was overalls in the designated wash basket and a shower afterwards. Plus there was plenty of ventilation, those were the best spots with a nice flow of air to negate the stifling humidity.
Personal protective equipment was the usual in any underground mine; hard hat with lamp, goggles, boots, overalls, 3M mask if entering dusty environment, and emergency rebreather.
Yes, I was outfitted in all of that, too. It is absolutely standard operating procedure.
In Italy two coal units of a electricity plant have been shut down by police. ( http://www.rainews.it/dl/rainews/articoli/Tirreno-Power-sequestrato-impianto-di-Vado-Ligure-bd15228c-4821-41c6-a359-c414aaedeab0.html?refresh_ce )
“Activity of Tirreno Power are open two strands of inquiry, an environmental disaster, and one for manslaughter.”
The government there is charging over 400 civilian deaths related to the coal operation. I dont understand how they could prove it conclusively, but then again it is the Italian court system which works on different standards. .
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