The End of Crandall Canyon

The terrible story of six trapped miners in the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah appears to have come to a painful and drawn-out conclusion. The mine owner, Robert Murray, told the families of the trapped miners that their loved-ones are most likely dead, and that further rescue attempts will not be made since there is no sign of life in the mine.

In addition to the six men who are most likely dead in the mine, there were three others who were killed during rescue attempts.

Tragedy is a fact of life, and I certainly do not want to diminish that. But there are some activities that carry a far greater risk of death and injury than others, and mining coal is an extremely hazardous activity. One might say that these men chose their way of life, that they knew the risks that they faced when they went down in the mine, and that the rescuers who were killed also knew the risks that they were facing.

But one might also say that coal mining by nature attracts those who have limited employment options, that it is a profession where men trade great personal risk for greater economic return than they might otherwise obtain with their education. I have read many accounts of miners who encourage their children to get the education that they will need to stay out of the coal mines. I have a hard time believing that anyone, even a coal miner, would be enthusiastic about the “retreat mining” technique that led to this catastrophe. But the nature of a job where you’re hired for your strong back is, that when the boss says to do something, you know you better do it or he’ll just find another strong-back.

I have passed through this area of Utah on many occasions. I grew up about 150 miles to the north of Huntington, and we would pass through Carbon County on trips to Lake Powell in southern Utah. I would see the huge piles of coal and the great mining and processing machines, and wonder a little bit about the men who worked in the mines. Later, I went to college and had friends from Wellington and Castledale, some of small coal mining towns near Huntington. My friends had siblings and parents and relatives in the mines, and all of them told the same story: they were at college to do something else.

Should we be mining coal? To Mr. Murray and his company, the answer seems to be yes. In testimony given on March 20 before the House Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, Mr. Murray said: “America is dependent on our coal because it is abundant, with some of our best deposits located on public lands; it is affordable; and it is critical to our energy security to protect all Americans from the hostile and unstable governments from which much of our country’s energy is currently imported.”

Perhaps Mr. Murray is right, and that coal is necessary for our country’s economic prosperity. But what a bleak view of the world that is for me, and one that should be changed as soon as possible. If coal is necessary, then let us work as quickly as we can to make it unnecessary.

To that end, and based on the technology of the fluoride reactor and the abundance of the thorium resource, I believe that thorium can replace our dependence on coal faster and more effectively than any other energy source of which I am aware. This is the goal I will work towards.

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