Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Atom-Age Boomtowns

The argument that nuclear power is the only reasonable solution to the problem of global warming is very compelling, even - or especially - to people who don't believe that global warming is actually happening.

Not surprisingly, this has encouraged a uranium boom in the West:

Since 2000, 175 U.S. firms have jumped into the market, and exploration expenditures have more than tripled to $185 million a year. In Colorado's San Miguel County, south of Nucla, some 1,731 new claims were staked last year; in all of 2002, there were 3. At the vanguard of the rush are the dilapidated towns whose residents reaped the rewards — and paid the price — of the last boom.
The price that Kingsville, Texas paid back in the eighties was high enough that some citizens are traveling to other towns to spread the gospel of mistrust:
"Don't sign on, don't lease," said Fred Bell, a 1951 graduate of Gallup High School who now lives seven miles south of Kingsville. "They'll get all they can out of you and then they're gone."
A spokesman for Uranium Resources Inc., explains that this time around, it won't be rape, but love; after all, "things have changed since the 1980s."
"If we can't do it safely," he said, "we won't do it at all."
In the eighties, of course, we had crackpots like James Watt and Donald Hodel in charge of Interior. Surely their like will not be here again. (Apropos of which, my heartiest congratulations to former Dick Cheney aide Randall Luthi, who's just been put in charge of the Minerals Management Service.)

Meanwhile, David Miller of Strathmore Minerals explains the economics of uranium mining:
Miller said of the several hundred uranium companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange today, only a handful will likely ever actually produce even a pound of yellowcake. But many will make money on speculation.

Driving speculation is uranium's phenomenal rise from the dead. Just four years ago, uranium (U308) was $7 per pound. Now at $130 per pound, the rush is on.
Which is why it's not inconceivable that twenty years from now, URI will be talking about the new regulations - and, more important, the sea-change in corporate culture - that make it impossible for things to go as they did in the bad old days of 2007.

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