Times-Dispatch publishes uranium mining op-ed from someone with professional knowledge
One of the more contentious political issues in south central Virginia is whether or not to allow mining at the largest known deposit of uranium east of the Mississippi River. That deposit, at Coles Hill in Chatham is located just slightly more than an hour’s drive from my current residence. It is estimated to contain 119 million pounds of uranium; which indicates that the total revenue available from the effort to extract that resource is about $6 billion at today’s spot market price of $51 per pound.
The family that has owned the farm where the uranium was found for many generations has been trying for at least four years to obtain permission to make better use of their valuable property. There are a number of activists in the area, however, who think that the economic activity associated with uranium mining would be damaging to their homes and businesses.
Even though Virginia has a long history as a mining state, with nearly 150 licensed coal mines, it is illegal to mine for uranium here.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch has been covering the controversy. On April 15 the newspaper published an op-ed by Andrea Jennetta, the publisher of Fuel Cycle Week, titled Uranium: Unedifying report meets inept questions. Never one to mince words, here is the attention getting way that Andrea started her piece.
I hate engineers and scientists.
As a liberal arts type who has worked in the nuclear industry for almost 25 years as a communicator of one sort or another, I have frequent dealings with them. That’s why my hatred is both well-grounded and completely justified.
In fact, my hatred was reinforced the other day as I sat at a National Research Council public meeting in Charlottesville on the organization’s unedifying report on uranium mining in Virginia. The questions and the answers were equally inept, albeit for different reasons.
There is a pretty good discussion thread developing. I encourage you to visit and share your thoughts.
Disclosure: I have written a number of articles for Fuel Cycle Week. I have a great deal of personal respect for Ms. Jennetta as a straight-shooting writer who really knows her stuff when it comes to the nuclear fuel cycle.
Quick curiosity question – not terribly important to this discussion, but might be useful to have an answer:
Is that estimate of 119 Million pounds an estimate of total unrefined ore, purified Uranium oxide (yellowcake), or LEU which could be created from the ore?
If it’s 119 Million pounds of unrefined ore, how many pounds of U-Ox does that purify down to, and from there, how many pounds of LEU fuel could be fabricated, and how many Gigawatt-years of power are we talking about from just this one mine alone? I’d be quite interested to hear the answers, if someone more knowledgeable could take a few minutes to run the math for the rest of us?
I’m doing a project for school and I can’t find recent figures of proven quantities of Uranium with an profitable grade (energy, not money). Some opposers say that most figures are way too positive, because you need more energy to mine and refine the uranium, than it ever will deliver (low grade uranium).
What about this mine and what about the supplies worldwide?
Thanks in advance!
Heinz Wobble, Germany
Unfortunately there is nothing new here: communication inept experts facing off with ignorant activists. This time someone was in the room that could see what was happening and was able to report in a public forum. I’ve been witness to several of these, as I suspect most on the pronuclear have.
Nuclear has a PR problem and very few are willing and able to address this. Until it is it will not matter a fig how good nuclear power is – why this hasn’t been moved up to the highest priority is a mystery to me.
Hopefully the Nuclear Literacy Project and Entreprenuclear can help people craft more direct and constructive messages.
The problem is more systemic. Communication is not just knowing the subject at hand, but how to deliver it in a context that is understood by the audience.
Look at the idiotic response one of these guys made to the question: “[What are] the health effects associated with exposure to … thorium.?” He answers: ” … without a context there was no way of knowing.” Meaningless to the average Joe, and worse, it is the same answer this pillock would give if the word ‘water’ replaced ‘thorium’ in the question. <i<I know what he meant, as I suspect most of those reading this do, but then most of us have a background in engineering or the sciences, and those that don’t are well informed laymen that have made an effort to get up to speed.
The correct answer would be something along the lines of there is no major public health issues currently associated with thorium. Would that be the most precise answer, would it stand up under scrutiny in court, would it be accepted by all of his peers? No. It would however address the underlying concerns of the initial questioner, because that is what public communications is about Responses that state that without a context there is no way of knowing are not seen as measured by the public, they are seen as evasive and are measurably worse than no answer at all.
Thank you for jumping back into the fray. Great post and thank you for sharing Andrea’s thoughts on the matter. There are some very interesting posts on the link that you shared.
In commenting, I had a flash of insight into the logic of Helen Caldicott. (I suspect I am not the first one to this party which is usually the case…) Her fundamental argument is based on a dicta secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter (aka destroying the exception) There is another fallacy that is made in conjunction with this too of affirming the consequent by denying the antecedent. This is done and was done to advance the LNT theory. The denied antecedent s that the dose rate has an impact on the long term damage that is induced. By neglecting or even intentionally excluding this one can shape the argument to any desired outcome.
Being a neophyte in logic, I would appreciate any discussion over this subject. I think there is something to be had here.
Having followed Caldicott’s rhetoric for some years, having had an extended debate with her on-line once I can assure you that there is no underlying logic, other than to vehemently, and loudly oppose everything to do with nuclear, facts be damned.
She is not arguing a position, she is preaching, and as such she relies on pure demagoguery appealing to the prejudices, emotions, fears, vanities, and expectations of an audience that is usually on side before she opens her mouth. Note that she actively avoids situations where she is likely to run into any serious opposition.
There is nothing to analyse here. She is a performer who’s shtick is antinuclear, and who is making a living at it.
Dr. Caldicott hates men. She views them as a necessary evil. To her, nuclear weapons and nuclear power represents all that is bad about men – our attraction to large complex machines that produce or use lots of power (cue Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor). If she really had a concern for people’s health she would fight the causes of poverty, which is far worse for a child than dispersed volatile fission products from reactor accidents
I have seen Caldicott described in these terms elsewhere, usually with more embellishments extending an opinion about her sexual preferences. However I am not sure just how useful these observations are. Worse, they might be seen as unfair and have the opposite effect than the one intended.
I see her as a professional activist who has earned a living for several decades telling lies about the nuclear industry. To me that places her in the same pigeonhole as those that earn a living selling bigotry against racial and ethic groups or those that sell get rich quick schemes to fools.
To me this is far more condemning than anything that can be said about her personal views in other areas.
Well, it’s difficult not to notice that Caldicott embellishes her nonsense with some disturbing sexual references — e.g., plutonium in the testicles and all that. This has led me to conclude that either
(1) she has some serious personal problems, or
(2) she has a very low opinion of the intelligence of her male audience.
Either way, it doesn’t speak well of her. This is not about her personal life, by the way. Anything she says when she is doing the rounds on the anti-nuclear talk circuit is fair game, as far as I’m concerned. This stuff makes up a good part of her spiel.
You are probably right on both counts, but I shy away from this sort of attack because it often garners more sympathy for the target. Heaven knows she leaves more than enough material on nuclear to hold up as false without needing to drift into personal areas.
Its been my experience that communicating with the “activist” type is about as effective as teaching differential calculus to my 3 year old.
Activists certainly are pretty set in their beliefs. Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t have reached the point of pursuing their advocacy. It is a shame, however, that so many anti-nuclear activists’ beliefs are based on untruths stoked by fear, uncertainty, and doubt rather than being based on facts.
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