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22 Comments

  1. Is there information about the ore concentration of this mine ? It’s an important factor of how large the benefits with regard to the environmental impact are.

    Given the large amount of coal mining that there is currently going on in the US, it sounds like it’s a lot easier to start new coal mining than uranium one. Despite the huge difference between the impact of one and of the other.

    1. The current estimate is there are about 119 million pounds of uranium at the Coles Hill ore deposit which would put it at seventeenth place on the list of unproven claims.

      1. Yes, I’ve seen the amount but not the concentration.

        There’s a number floating in anti-nuclear circles, that puts nuclear at 66gCO2/KWh. The tricks to get such an elevated number include assuming many plant will not run their full planned life, based on the few ones that had problems and were stopped early, but also a very low ore concentration number. The number of 300ppm is frequently used for concentration, but I’d like to see data on what the concentration of actually exploited mines, and newly developed ones actually is. I’ve already seen a document that shows a few selected exceptional mines have higher than 10% concentration, and there’s even one mine in Canada that has ore at almost 20%.

    2. @jmdesp

      The ore concentration at Coles Hill averages 0.6% (600 ppm).

      That is one of the reasons why the owner needs to colocate a mine and a mill. Low concentration ore can be a valuable resource, but transporting huge volumes of material long distance costs far too much and has way too much environmental impact.

      When I spoke to one of the Coles Hill geologists a couple of weeks ago, he explained how they are designing the mine to allow most of the grinding to happen underground. They will pump the resulting slurry up to the mill, extract the valuable minerals and pump the less radioactive tailings to a holding area. Eventually, about half of the tailings will be used to fill in the mine while the other half will be buried in a lined, below grade disposal site on the property and covered with earth.

      The chemistry at the site is such that the main processing chemical will be sodium bicarbonate.

      The mill capacity is being planned for 2 million pounds of yellowcake per year; that is about one tractor trailer load per week.

      1. Have they looked into an in-situ process of injecting the sodium bicarbonate into the ground and pumping back to the surface?

        1. @John Englert

          Yes. Unfortunately, that process only works for formations that are loosely packed and have a lot of porosity. The uranium formation at Coles Hill is hard rock – essentially all is locked in granite. The rocks have to be ground up in order for the solvent to extract the uranium.

  2. Rod, and interesting report. I’m the subject often of these sorts of “Solar can do it” misinformed sloganeering….living in the anti-nuclear SF Bay Area as I do. I can sympathies with the person who retired to the area and doesn’t want to live near any industrial site let along a noisy mine. I would either.

    The geologist answers seemed very good and would of satisfied my own doubts.

    I’ve argued that the only good reason not to build a nuclear plant, say in my home town of NYC, say at the West 59th St. Con Ed plant is that I wouldn’t want to subject anyone in such a crowed area to the noise and general construction pollution you get from a massive industrial project that, while being built, as a 24/7 operation. I can see that.

  3. Do you think it is okay to spend $1 million dollars and counting on a privated company?

    Thanks,
    Ace

    1. @Ace Pruitt

      I assume that you are talking about the cost of implementing the NAS recommendations to carefully evaluate the regulatory framework and put that into place before allowing any permits to be filed and awarded.

      Of course, it costs money to perform the research demanded, to pay the regulation writers, to hold the lengthy public meetings and to manage the required communications with a skeptical public. People cannot do that work for free and it is not within our normal method of operating a government to demand all of the costs from a company that wants to do business. Many of those costs are purely governmental and imposed for public reasons; they do not benefit the private company at all.

      The regulatory framework that is going to be put into place will not be specific to a single company or a single deposit. Sure, Coles Hill is the only currently known deposit in a state that banned uranium mining altogether as soon as their first deposit was located. However, geologically speaking, it is highly unlikely that the geology at Coles Hill is completely unique within the state of Virginia.

      How would you feel if you were the owner of Coles Hill and the government demanded that you pay ALL of the costs to implement a broad regulatory framework that enabled any qualified applicant to obtain a mining permit to mine similar kinds of deposit that you were planning to mine?

      If the opposition is so worried about the cost to taxpayers of implementing the NAS recommendations for a comprehensive regulatory framework, perhaps they should look in the mirror and ask why they are imposing their fears and opposition onto the rest of the taxpayers.

      I happen to be a relatively new Virginia resident and am paying a state income tax for the first time in my life. I’m not terribly pleased about the obvious expenditures of my money that I sat and calculated while watching state employees who traveled to Chatham to get grilled for four hours into the evening, knowing that it was just the tip of the cost iceberg.

      I’m savvy enough about business and tax revenues to recognize that there will be a substantial benefit to all of the rest of us once the mine and mill begin operating and paying taxes. Unfortunately, it looks like that payback will be delayed for quite some time and will be reduced by stupid expenditures in court.

  4. Thanks Rod for posting this video. I’m from Colorado and I just want people to know that uranium mining hasn’t ruined the state. I just happen to grow up about a mile from a tailings pile that was the remanent of a vanadium/uranium mill; however, I was exposed to more radioactive particulate matter from the coal soot that was dispersed into the air above Durango, Colorado by the old narrow gauge railroad that takes tourists from Durango to Silverton and back.

    The people in the video need to understand that the issues surrounding the legacy uranium mines are not unique to uranium. There are hazardous tailings from many different mines all over Colorado. Standards for mining in general are much tougher now than in the ’40s and ’50s when a lot of uranium was mined for nuclear weapons.

    1. “Nuclear Power’s Other Tragedy: Communities Living With Uranium Mining”

      “The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which regulates in situ operations
      in several states, including Wyoming, New Mexico, and Nebraska, acknowledges that although in situ mine permits call for complete restoration of groundwater conditions after mining operations, most of these baseline parameters have proved impossible to
      achieve.
      Any in situ operation risks spreading uranium and its hazardous byproducts outside the mine, potentially contaminating nearby aquifers and drinking water sources. This has been a major problem with almost all in situ projects in the U.S.”

      http://www.earthworksaction.org/files/publications/Nuclear-Power-Other-Tragedy-low.pdf?pubs%2FNuclear-Power-Other-Tragedy-low.pdf

      Standards for mining in general haven’t evolved much since:

      “The 1872 Mining Law – passed before women could vote and long before the advent of our national environmental laws – still governs hardrock mining, including uranium mining, on public lands today. This antiquated law allows uranium mining companies,
      who are often foreign multinationals, to take minerals from public lands for free while polluting our country’s precious resources. Because the law contains no environmental provisions or reclamation standards for hardrock mining that occurs on public lands, taxpayers have been burdened with billions of dollars in
      clean up costs.”

      I know Coles Hill is privately owned land- and a large one; not so large that it avoids the likelihood of risk to the community and damage to the environment. These risks far outweigh any benefits to the land-owner- or to The Industry.

  5. Re: David Walters says:
    “I’ve argued that the only good reason not to build a nuclear plant, say in my home town of NYC, say at the West 59th St. Con Ed plant is that…”

    There’s no way I can prove this because only one of the three NYC TV network stations have the clip that was filmed during the hysterical height of TMI, but this Con Ed rep was fending off all kinds of nuke-crucifying questions by reporters, and when asked do you really think Indian Point is safe? And he came right out and said I’d no problem with it if it were sited on Roosevelt Island (between Manhattan and Queens). I don’t know his name or what exactly his Con Ed position was, but that act of gutsy confidence made one lasting impression on me! I hope one day they’d be a way to get that clip again!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  6. The fears of the public come from their applaudable concern for the safety of their environment. They mention their fear of contamination of the rivers that they draw their drinking water from. What these people lack is information and a method to evaluate the facts of the situation that they trust. For example, the river mentioned in the video flows through a geological area that contains many rich Uranium deposits. This means that the river must already contain Uranium that it has washed from the soils it is eroding. How much Uranium is in the water already? Another example is that the wind already has Uranium dust in it from blowing across exposed ore. What is the baseline level of Uranium dust? Having these sorts of baseline measurements would help put any additional risk posed by the mine into perspective.
    During my attempts to convince people to accept Nuclear Power I have found that if I acknowledge that the root of their concerns comes from a positive place that I share, they are much more accepting of my arguments.

    1. There is nothing intrinsically wrong about the public being concerned about the impacts of any project to exploit a natural resource in their area, quite the contrary, getting these issues out of the way at the beginning is the best way to go and saves all sorts of aggravation and expense later. However most of these efforts get mired in ignorance on one hand and dissemination on the other with the result that no one is happy and relationships are permanently harmed.

      Mines are not clean operations – after all one is moving high volumes of dirt and it is difficult to do this without some impact on the local environment. And they do create tailings which are difficult to deal with economically and to everyone’s satisfaction. This is not including issues like noise, traffic and the general look of the things. This is why any sort of mine will draw some opposition if it is proposed near some populated area.

      Generally speaking the only argument that carries weight in these situations in the cost/benefit one, and I am not so sure that this is so favourable in this instance.

      I’ll repeat what I wrote in the earlier post on this subject: I strongly suggest that anyone looking to invest in this project pay very close attention to due diligence before risking any money. The stars are not lined up in it favour as of now.

      Robert Gauthier

  7. I should amend my previous comment.
    It would be exceedingly difficult to talk with someone who thinks the process is about “human sacrifice”

  8. Too bad they don’t site nuclear plants in areas already deemed contaminated by mining to produce both power and fresh filtered water to the region while locally feeding on more advanced mining techniques. In the old days. coal-fired plants were built near coal mines in Wales and northern U.K. which seems a semi-logical thing to me that kills two birds with one stone since who wants to live near mines if you can help it anyway.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  9. Since the meeting at Chatham, more events have caused me to consider the planned mine a poor fit for our community. One being recent rain events that have overpowered the sewage treatment plants in Lynchburg and Danville, the two cities Coles Hill is situated between. If these “best practices” facilities had to bypass millions of gallons of chunkies into the river, why would this facility be any different.

    Another is this drought. I sure could use a bath and my beautiful garden is toast. We are sucking sand out of the well but somehow Coles’ will be able to appropriate the millions of gallons of water needed to run this facility? When there is water, there is plenty, but it is seasonal, and I would be outraged to have to restrict my usage while VUI squanders this precious resource.

    And while I am remiss to touch the edge of a nuclear debate, this latest outage debacle was not a failure of generation, but of transmission. I can’t imagine that anyone sitting through a week or more sans electricity in this miserable heat would not have considered strongly the prospect of going off grid. There are great new solar and wind technologies available for home owners.

    The problem with trusting PEPCO, APPCO or any of these money sucking for profit ventures is their lack of stewardship in the communities they serve. The majority of service breaches occurred due to poor maintenance of the grid, the response was even lamer. These companies have more employees enforcing billing and tax evasion strategies than providing electricity to their overcharged customers. Forget nuclear expansion, I would recommend folks start looking out for their own interests and ditch these greedy sons of profiteers.

    While I strive for objectivity, these last couple weeks have reinforced my resolve to Keep the Ban on uranium mining in VA. The best laid practices of two major utilities have proven no match for Virginia’s capricious weather, so I doubt even the “Best Little Uranium Mine in the World” would be able. The hellish conditions of the last two weeks would have been made a worse hell with the noise, dust, water privation, blasting, diesel fumes and God knows what other offenses from a nearby mine.

    1. @K Patrick

      Your first mistake is in considering that the sewage treatment plants in Danville and Lynchburg represent “best practice” designs. They both have far less design margin in the case of large water events than Coles Hill would have. Though this information comes from the mine owners and should be verified from other sources, here is their description of their design requirements in the case of precipitation:

      Rain/Overflow: We plan and engineer for a PMP (potential maximum
      precipitation) event and the resulting PMF (potential maximum flood) event
      which are basically Noah’s Ark type storm. Something like 30 inches of rain
      in 6 hours. We would likely be the only thing within 70 miles designed to
      withstand such a storm. So if we had such a storm, would the only thing
      designed to withstand it, really be the most major concern? Last night’s
      storm was 0.8 inches of rain, over a 3 hour period.

      (Dated June 19, 2012)

      As a resident of Forest, VA who decided to spend last week with family in Virginia Beach due to a lengthy power outage at my home, I understand your displeasure with the local power companies. I share your disappointment with the repair response – I know that the workers did a fantastic job with the resources they were provided and that they put in some very long days. However, I have been associated with the electric power utility business my whole life (Dad worked for Florida Power and Light for 35 years) and I know a little about how they have cut back on certain reliability programs due to pressure from Public Utility Commissions to reduce redundancy and keep bills down. I think that is penny wise and pound foolish.

      With regard to a desire to “go off grid”, everyone I know is happy that they are back on the grid and can flip switches on and off to their heart’s content without worrying about filling the generator, protecting the extension cords and dealing with the noise and exhaust. I cannot think of a single person who thought that it would be a good idea to erect a wind turbine (lack of any steady breeze during high pressure events is one of the reasons it gets so darned hot) or put solar panels on their roof. After all, getting to sleep at night on hot humid days is one of the worst parts about being without electricity and there is no sun at night.

      1. Having been in one of those Noah’s Ark type storms a few years back where rainfall exceeded 16″ in an hour and I would have to check to see if the combination was 30″ in a given six hour period, even these specifications seem inadequate.

        A gasoline generator is not my idea of off grid. It would be great if some of the electrical great thinkers would devote their genius to renewable energy. When I was a youth, I was fascinated with a new invention called lasers. basically toys for optical experiments, they were impractical due to the size of their power supplies. Over these years, the size of power supplies has been reduced and optimized to the point you can have a laser on a keychain and a supercomputer that would be unthinkable back then in a single device with a telephone, and it fits in your pocket.

        This common knowledge makes it hard to believe that you wouldn’t know that solar panels are attached to storage devices. Recently Dominion claimed it couldn’t meet it’s renewable energy development goals because they were unable to source adequate storage devices. Smells like BS to me. Wonder how NASA powers it’s electronics on spacecraft where there is no atmospheric light amplification? Guess it is more political than scientific. Just like uranium sourcing.

        BTW, a Russian company is taking over control of the uranium mines in Wyoming, maybe Virginia will be flooded with former Rosatom comrades if this mine gets going. Maybe they might know someone technologically adventurous enough to develop affordable storage solutions for renewable energy sources. America loses again due to slavish orthodoxy and unwillingness to use extant technology to develop systems more compatible with 21st century needs. We will even need storage devices for our little backyard thorium reactors, so start on this end of the project.

        1. @K Patrick

          As a former submarine engineer officer, I have a pretty fair understanding of energy storage systems. Not only did I work rather closely with a large storage battery, but I also spent the last few years of my career as a requirements officer with some responsibilities for analyzing and funding energy research.

          The bottom line is that batteries and other storage devices are extremely expensive per unit of electricity that they can store; they have limited lifetimes, and there really are very few technical avenues of major improvement available. The chemistry is well known and understood; there are little tweaks that might provide some marginal improvements, but nearly all of the improvements in the longevity of battery powered devices comes from reducing their power consumption, not from improving the storage system.

          I earned my graduate degree in systems technology in the mid 1980s from a school located just a few miles south of Silicon Valley in Monterey, CA. Many of my professors were engaged in some of the cutting edge research that you mentioned; it was not magical, but something that could be quantified with roadmaps that were reasonably predictable. There is no such roadmap available that will improve electricity storage.

          On the other hand, nature has an amazing ability to store ENERGY in both hydrocarbon bonds and in atomic nuclei. I am fascinated by the fact that fissioning uranium produces at least 2 MILLION times as much energy per unit mass as burning even the most concentrated hydrocarbon fuel – petroleum. It is 3-5 million times more concentrated that most coals and 10 million times more concentrated than burning dry wood.

          Nuclear energy is the only technical avenue that offers anything close to a Moore’s Law scale of potential improvements. Did you know that we are currently only using about 0.5% of the potential energy from the uranium that we are mining today? It will take some innovation to develop and deploy the systems that can improve on that, but the potential benefits are enormous.

          You mentioned backyard thorium reactors, but did you realize that we have already built reactors using uranium that could fit comfortably in an individual backyard? The institution that did that is the same NASA that you tout as innovative.

          BTW – though NASA uses solar energy to power satellites, when they want to send out a deep space probe, the favored source is a nuclear battery that is powered by the decay of plutonium 238. For a space craft that can actually move people to Mars, allow them to do some research while they are there and then come home again, most technical analysts think that only a nuclear thermal rocket will do the trick – probably one carrying a nuclear reactor power plant to use while on the planet.

          http://ansnuclearcafe.org/2012/07/09/nasas-roadmap-to-the-nuclear-thermal-rocket/

          One more thing – I am not keen on having Russian companies control our destiny. That is one of the reasons I am in favor of the Coles Hill development. I like the idea of a local company making an impact on a globally important industry.

    2. I literally laughed out loud that someone would call Lynchburg’s sewage system a “best practices facility.” The Lynchburg sewer system is ancient!

      If the sewer system in Lynchburg is so great, then perhaps K Patrick can explain why the city has been tearing up all of the roads near my house for the past couple of years to put in a new system to separate the street runoff from the real sewage. This is why the plants are being “overpowered,” and the city is finally trying to fix the problem.

      Comparing this to a modern mining facility built to contemporary standards is just plain silly.

      As for the problems with the grid, those who don’t like it perhaps should move to a small town like Bedford. While the rest of the area was without electricity, the lights stayed on in Bedford, which operates its own small hydroelectric power station.

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