It is day 55 of my 365 Days of Living Deliberately blog, and I think the uranium mining panel discussion was effective. Andrew Lester, Director of the Roanoke River Basin Association, spoke first and shared photos in his power-point presentation that were very helpful. He discussed how the proposed Coles Hill site is vulnerable to a host of weather event possibilities, showing photos of flooding and tornadoes that hit the area, maps of hurricanes that have criss-crossed Virginia and of the waterways that would be affected. These are the arguments that most uranium mining opponents make, namely, that catastrophes can happen because of extreme weather events. The above map shows the hurricanes that have hit Virginia.
After Andrew Lester’s presentation, Christopher Pugsley, an attorney who represents the uranium mining industry, described how he believed that “robust”regulations ensure that uranium mining would be conducted safely. I put the word “robust” in quotations, because I have become repelled by the audacity of the term, robust being a euphemism for the appearance of stringent regulations.
The public knows that extreme weather events, while they are inevitable dangers, are just some of the reasons why uranium mining in Virginia is unacceptable. The public also knows that there is no technology that can contain radioactive emissions and contamination in perpetuity, but what the public doesn’t know is that radioactive exposures are inevitable because the regulations that govern uranium mining are based on the ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) standard, which allows for and legalizes radioactive contamination. So, the focus of my presentation was on the fact that containment is impossible, radioactive contamination, even at low levels is dangerous, and according to uranium mining guidelines, radioactive waste could likely be buried at the Coles Hill site.
I described how the massive amounts of uranium mining radioactive waste mine tailings would be put into encapsulation impoundments that would be the same as modern lined landfills which even the EPA admits all leak. In fact, liners fail automatically, so EPA permits “allowable leakage rates;” clay liners crack, and substances diffuse through clay. Leachate collection systems clog and malfunction as a matter of course. I showed the audience a photo of the Warren County PCB landfill a few months after it was capped, how the clay cap of the landfill was eroded down to the plastic liner which had blown up in massive bubbles that had to be popped in order to relieve the gas that was pressuring to get out. I told the audience that the PCB landfill had been heralded as a “state-of-the-art,” dry-tomb landfill, a Cadillac, and that’s what Virginia Uranium wants the public to believe about uranium mining. But lined landfills all leak, and so do radioactive mine tailings impoundments.
After describing why containment is impossible, I explained how government regulators know this, and that’s why regulations allow for “reasonable” levels of contamination, the claim being that low levels of radioactive contamination are acceptable and by implication safe. I described how permissible radioactive exposures are not safe, that the National Academy of Science, funded by the EPA, determined that the smallest radioactive dose has the potential to increase cancer risks. I discussed also how Karl Morgan and John Gofman, both renowned scientists in the field of nuclear power, determined that there is no safe dose of radioactive exposure.
Finally, I explained how in addition to 120 million tons of radioactive mine tailings (that would be the equivalence of a mountain 200 feet tall by 400 feet wide by 7 miles long), low-level radioactive waste from across the country and from anywhere could likely be buried there as well. Ken and I have mentioned at public hearings that we believe that the Coles Hill site could become a dumping grounds for additional low-level radioactive waste, but it wasn’t until I read a paper co-authored by Christopher Pugsley that I saw that such “direct deposit” of additional low level radioactive waste is written into the guidelines. The way Ken and I see it, uranium mining would be a kind of Trojan horse, the gift of additional low-level radioactive waste being hidden on the inside of the gift horse.
After the presentations, in the question/answer period, Mr. Pugsley reiterated that he believed that the regulations guaranteed safety and that the plastic liner could last from 200 to 1,000 years. I told him that with all due respect to him personally, his statement, his position,was arrogant and delusional, that no regulations or technology could contain the radioactive waste nor guarantee the safety of future nations and civilizations 200 to 1,000 years from now. He got red in the face and didn’t respond to me.