Wednesday, Jul 30th

Last updateWed, 30 Jul 2014 8am

You are here: Home Opinion Paula I. Bryant PAULA BRYANT: Keep the ban: Here’s why

PAULA BRYANT: Keep the ban: Here’s why

Last week’s messy spill at Duke Energy’s retired Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C. spewed 82,000 tons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River strengthening opponents’ arguments of what might happen to area waterways if the moratorium on uranium mining is lifted in Virginia.

The spill was caused by a break in a 48-inch storm water pipe located underneath Duke’s unlined 27-acre, 155-million-gallon ash pond, ultimately draining an estimated 24 to 27 million gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River. 

A 48-inch slip-joint concrete and corrugated steel storm sewer line that runs under the ash pond failed, and liquefied ash flowed into the failed section of the line, and then to the Dan River.

The occurrence, the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history, made its way to Halifax County last week.

And all the apologies in the world can’t remove that gray sludge and its coal ash contaminants from the river.

It will take time, and lots of it, before the Dan will get back to the way it was before last week’s polluted spill.

All wish it had never happened and agree it is a catastrophic mess that has got to be cleaned up.

But I am a firm believer in things happening for a reason. Although it may take years to get the Dan River “back,” it’s not too late to learn a lesson from this fateful occurrence.

It would have been much worse had it been uranium tailings.

I’m no scientist and claim to know very little about the technology associated with uranium mining, but I do understand some about radioactivity and its impacts.

Typically, uranium mine tailings contain 80 to 85 per cent of the radioactivity of the ore itself — so the waste is almost as radioactive as the ore, and it stays around forever.

The radioactivity in the tailings includes the uranium decay product that has a half-life of thousands and thousands of years.

This is the timeframe over which uranium tailings dust and sludge pose a hazard to human health. Therefore, a vast amount of toxic, radioactive waste rock and dust is the legacy of any uranium mine.

And just like with the retired Duke Energy steam station’s coal ash, uranium tailings will be around long after all the uranium is mined from the ground in Southside Virginia.

It may be “safely” buried in lined containers underground, but accidents and natural disasters can and do happen. Earthquakes come to mind immediately.

Once such an incident occurs, all the apologies in the world will not be enough to put the uranium tailings back in the ground.

“This is a serious spill, and we need to get it under control as quickly as possible,” North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said concerning the coal ash spill. “Our top priorities are ensuring the health and safety of the public as well as the wildlife in the Dan River vicinity and the river itself, and the best way to do that is to get this controlled and cleaned up.” 

 “We apologize. We apologize for the accident that happened at our Dan River site,” said Duke Energy President Paul R. Newton said. “Whatever it may be, you have our complete one hundred percent commitment to make it right. We take full responsibility.”

Let’s not face this scenario again … ever. 

Keep the ban on uranium mining.