Uranium Fuels Delegates’ Paris Jaunt

June 21st, 2011 at 5:30 pm | 1 Comment |

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Twelve Virginia legislators have received a free trip to France — at an average cost of $10,000 per lawmaker — funded by a company which advocates an end to the state’s ban on uranium mining.

The lawmakers have been in Paris since Wednesday and will today visit a French mine where uranium was extracted for 50 years until recently to get a first-hand look at the environmental impact of a large-scale, high-volume site.

While the legislators argue the trip is a research opportunity, critics claim it’s a “free vacation” being provided by a company with a vested interest in influencing lawmakers to vote to lift the ban.

In 2007, Virginia Uranium, Inc., first went public with plans to exploit a major uranium deposit in Pittsylvania County, in southern Virginia.  The operation would entail extensive mining, a milling facility and disposal of massive amounts of waste. The firm has said it would like to see the Virginia  legislature rescind the 1982 moratorium on uranium mining in the current session.

Fairfax Democrat Delegate Kenneth Plum, who had originally planned to accept the free trip, told FrumForum he changed his mind because of the controversial business interests of Virginia Uranium, Inc.

“Coincidentally, I have been in France with my wife for over a week,” he said. “We had planned to meet up with the delegation from Virginia but since learning the details of the trip have decided not to. Because of the importance of this issue to Virginia, I have decided to not accept gifts from anyone with a business interest in it.”

Del. Plum said he would visit the French uranium mine being toured by the other Virginia lawmakers — but not as a member of their party.

Another Virginia delegate said that although the mine visit  would likely prove “very educational, since the climate in France is similar to Virginia,” he refused to partake in the trip because he does not accept such large corporate gifts.

But when asked whether delegates should have paid for the France trip themselves, Republican David B. Albo said their low salaries mitigated against such long-distance fact-finding trips.

“HA, HA, HA!!!  That is hilarious.  We make $17,640/yr,” he wrote in an e-mail to FrumForum. “There is NO WAY any legislator could go unless they are massively rich on their own.”

Virginian environmentalists are taking a dim view of the legislators’ French trip. Lisa Guthrie, executive director of The Virginia League of Conservation Voters, told FrumForum:“We certainly hope that as enticing as free first-class tickets to Paris might be, freebies are not enough to sway a legislator to support an industry with such dangerous, far-reaching and lasting impacts as uranium mining.”

Republican Del. James P. Massie III has accepted the paid trip as an “educational experience” to better understand the process of uranium mining.

He anticipates what he will learn on the trip will allow him to “make the best decision possible about uranium mining in Virginia. There is nothing like, no better education than, getting out from behind your desk and visiting the ‘field.’”

Virginia Uranium, Inc. is providing decision-makers the crucial ability to be informed, said Patrick Wales, the company’s project manager.

“Having legislators that have actually seen what reclaim facilities look like gives them a level of understanding that you can’t get by reading a report,” he told FrumForum.

Furthermore, the company has even included lawmakers they know can’t be persuaded to change their positions on uranium mining on the French trip, he said.

“There’s some individuals who have said they’re 99.9 percent sure that they would not support lifting the ban: but they’re remaining open-minded enough to travel and learn, and we did not certainly restrict our invitations to just people we thought could be supportive,” said Wales.

Andrew Lester, executive director of the Roanoke River Basin Association, another Virginia environmentalist group which supports keeping the mining ban in place.

“There’s 144 legislators, and only a [dozen] took Virginia Uranium up on that particular opportunity to go there to wine and dine and have a good time,” he told FrumForum. “It tells me that 90 percent of the legislators know it’s a bad idea.”

In accepting an offer worth $10,000, lawmakers are associating themselves with a business with a direct stake in seeing the ban lifted — a situation which could create the perception of conflicted interests.

“They’re going along with Virginia Uranium’s idea of what they wanna do and basically are not being objective in their whole perspective of the thing,” said Lester. “So in that sense it appears to be a little unethical.”

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Raskolnik

    Round trip business class tickets at this time of year easily run $3-4000 a head. Add in a hotel that is worthy of a diplomatic delegation and you’re well over half the cost. So, depending on exactly how long they’re there, $10k per head isn’t necessarily all that much.

    Also, did the company send out an invite to all 144 members of the Virginia legislature? How do “environmental groups” know that 90% of the legislators chose not to accept, for ethical or any other reasons? And, how does visiting a uranium mine count as being wined and dined?

    Nuclear power is the future, and the United States is missing the boat. France has figured out how to mine cleanly and operate safely. The more we learn about what they’re doing, the better.