AREVA Uranium Enrichment Factory
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Areva, the largest nuclear supplier in the world, wants to build a $4 billion gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant in eastern Idaho big enough to fuel 50 nuclear reactors. Areva’s profits would go to its home base in France. Areva’s product would go all over the world, though not to Idaho. Areva’s waste could remain above Idaho’s Snake River Aquifer for decades. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) should not have licensed the Areva uranium enrichment factory as it announced that it did on October 12, 2011. Read this letter of complaint issued by the Snake River Alliance to the NRC on November 30, 2011. See below for information about how to get involved in the campaign and make sure to take action today!
A Risky Uranium Plan
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued the final environmental impact statement for the uranium enrichment plant French-owned Areva wants to build in eastern Idaho in February of 2011. In July, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) held an evidentiary hearing on the license asking whether there was a need for a new supply of enriched uranium given the impact of the Fukushima nuclear disaster on global demand. The Alliance argued forcefully that the Fukushima crisis represents “changed circumstances” that were not accounted for in the Final EIS. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires a “supplemental EIS” in the instance of “changed circumstances.” However, in October of 2011, the NRC ignored this argument and granted Areva a license for their ill-suited enrichment factory. Areva says they plan to start construction in the spring of 2012.
A license from the NRC is one step in a long process. We won’t know for awhile whether this facility can be built or not. Areva is very financially unstable and recent news reports indicate all their future project investments are in flux. Areva CEO Luc Oursel told a French parliamentary hearing Wednesday that the troubled company is reviewing its financial and investment plans in light of a worldwide retrenchment in new plant orders and shutdowns of existing plants. Oursel said Areva would provide more details on investments his company might postpone in December. It may be that the realities of the market will be Areva’s downfall, in Idaho and elsewhere.
The Alliance plans to appeal to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board and directly to the Commissioners of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to reconsider licensing Areva in light of the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. At the least, we will insist on a response to the legally relevant argument that the events at Fukushima had a serious enough effect on the demand for new sources of enriched uranium to lead to a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. Please help us in this effort by writing letters to the editor in local papers, and calling your elected officials to tell them that you don’t want your tax-dollars going to support a French company to produce a dangerous and unnecessary product.
Nuclear power impedes carbon reduction, since the substantial public and private capital that might go into nuclear power could no longer go toward faster, cheaper, less risky clean energy production, efficiency, and conservation.
- The Fukushima nuclear disaster has shaken the nuclear industry and essentially halted the much ballyhooed “nuclear renaissance.”
- Japan and Germany—the world’s third and fourth largest economies—are moving to new energy policies focused on clean renewable energy and increased energy efficiency and away from nuclear power.
- One of the most likely “new build” reactor projects in the US has lost its primary funder.
Radioactive Risk to Idaho
Areva proposes to build its uranium factory on the upstream end of the Snake River Aquifer a few miles east of the Idaho National Laboratory. INL’s nuclear activities have already contaminated the aquifer and have left substantial waste behind. Addressing these environmental challenges has already cost billions of taxpayer dollars and will continue for years.
- On average, producing 1 ton of uranium enriched enough for use in a nuclear power reactor creates 7 tons of depleted uranium waste. The Department of Energy already stores more than three quarters of a million metric tons of depleted uranium.
- Areva’s plant would produce 350,000 metric tons of depleted uranium over its operating life.
- Areva plans to build an outdoor concrete storage plan large enough to hold all of its waste.
- No country that enriches uranium has figured out how to dispose of it. Even after the waste has been treated, disposal is both difficult and uncertain.
- Unlike other nuclear waste, depleted uranium becomes more radioactive over the course of 1,000,000 years.
- The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has only recently begun to study whether near-surface disposal of significant quantities of depleted uranium could be safe or whether it should be disposed of in a deep geologic repository, a path favored by a number of independent experts.
- All four current and pending shallow nuclear waste dumps in the US are only designed to contain the waste for a few hundred years, and the NRC has acknowledged that a whole new regulatory scheme has to be developed to guide disposal of waste that is dangerous for as long as depleted uranium is.
Financial Risk to US Taxpayers
Every project has an “opportunity cost,” which means that resources spent on it can’t be spent on anything else.
- Areva is owned by the French government. Though its 2006 world-wide sales topped $14 billion, it is financially over-extended. It is building a new-design reactor in Finland that is significantly over budget and behind schedule. It’s dramatically expanding uranium mining in Niger. Areva is deep into construction of a uranium enrichment factory in France. So to build its uranium factory in Idaho, it has applied for a $2 billion loan guarantee from the US Department of Energy. The DOE has announced its intention to give Areva this bailout. The Government Accountability Office estimates that the average risk of default for Department of Energy loan guarantees is about 50 percent. If US taxpayers don’t cosign the loan, Areva has already said it will simply expand what it is already building in France.
- US taxpayers would get far more for our $2 billion by investing in faster, cheaper, less risky clean energy production, efficiency, and conservation than in nuclear power.
Global proliferation risk
The Federation of American Scientists calls gas centrifuge uranium enrichment “an open road to a nuclear weapon.” That’s why the international community is so worried about Iran’s uranium enrichment plants even though indications so far are that Iran is not enriching uranium all the way to bomb grade. Any enrichment plant provides “breakout” capacity.
- A plant enriching uranium for a power reactor can be easily converted to enrich it for bombs.
- If the feedstock for an enrichment plant has already been enriched enough to use in a power reactor, more than half the work toward a bomb has already been done.
- Gas centrifuge plants are much harder to detect than plutonium reprocessors or older gaseous diffusion enrichment plants, the other two kinds of plants that make nuclear bomb ingredients. They don’t have to be massive, hard to hide facilities, nor do they use inordinate amounts of electricity or water that might alert the international community.
Help us STOP AREVA
One of the best ways you can help us stop Areva is to inform other Idahoans of the risks associated with uranium enrichment through letter to the editor of the state’s major paper. Please use the information above and the sample letters below and submit a letter of your own to one or all of the following papers:
The Idaho Statesman
Letters to the Editor
P.O. Box 40
Boise, ID 83707
PO Box 1800
Idaho Falls, Idaho 83403
132 Fairfield St. West
James G. Wright
Idaho Mountain Express
Idaho State Journal
Ian H. Fennell, Editor
305 S. Arthur
Pocatello, ID 83204
Tips for LTE writing
- Make your point quickly.
- Include your name, address and daytime phone number. Letters without this information are not accepted.
- Expect a call to confirm that you are the author of the letter.
Thank you for your time and effort. Please do let us know if you write a letter by emailing Liz at email@example.com
Sample letters to the editor
1) A giant company owned by the French government wants to build a centrifuge uranium enrichment plant near Idaho Falls, and the State of Idaho has already given Areva substantial tax breaks. Idaho taxpayers are unwittingly backing an increased threat of nuclear weapons proliferation.
Consider: The Federation of American Scientists calls enriching uranium with gas centrifuges “an open road to a nuclear weapon.” That’s because a plant enriching uranium to 4% for a power reactor can be easily converted to enrich it to 20% or more for bombs. Furthermore, if the plant starts with power reactor uranium, more than half the work toward a bomb has already been done.
We shouldn’t be encouraging a foreign company to compromise our own nuclear security.
2) Does our country really need Areva’s uranium enrichment plant?
One of the most successful agreements between the United States and Russia to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons is called the Megatons to Megawatts program. So far, the 1993 agreement has led to the downblending of 367 metric tons of Russian highly enriched uranium (HEU;, bomb grade) to low enriched uranium (LEU, reactor grade). That’s enough to fuel a single reactor for 425 years. The United States Enrichment Corporation sells the LEU to US reactor operators, and it’s claimed that in the past several years, 10% of US electricity has come from retired USSR nuclear bombs.
The original Megatons to Megawatts agreement covers 500 metric tons of Russian bomb grade uranium. Experts estimate Russia may have an additional 350 metric tons of bomb grade uranium. And how about the US? Shouldn’t we be getting rid of our bomb grade enriched uranium before we give giant subsidies to a foreign company to enrich more uranium?
3) Barack Obama recently addressed the United Nations to outline a course toward a nuclear weapons free world. But Mr. Obama doesn’t have to go to the UN to make a real dent in the nuclear peril. Right now, a significant fraction of our bomb grade uranium that’s been declared excess is still in assembled weapons. Mr. Obama should insist that our own government make real progress toward “blending down” bomb grade enriched uranium to reactor grade. The reactor grade enriched uranium can be used to fuel current nuclear reactors and, more important, we get rid of a weapons ingredient.
4) Even though Iran claims it’s enriching uranium for nuclear power, the international community is justifiably concerned. A plant for reactor uranium can be converted in a matter of months to one for nuclear bomb uranium. On September 9 Glyn Davies, US Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, voiced that concern by saying Iran has “possible breakout capacity” if it chooses to enrich its uranium stockpile.
Here at home, Areva, a nuclear company owned by the French government, has already gotten tax breaks from the State of Idaho and got a sweetheart $2 billion loan guarantee from the federal government. I don’t feel good that we might be underwriting a plant that can do exactly what we don’t want other countries to do. Let’s do as we say.
5) I don’t support nuclear power. Its price tag and lead time make it a radically inefficient way to respond to the threat of global warming by reducing carbon emissions. And I’m also worried about the ongoing threat of nuclear weapons proliferation. That’s why I oppose giving French-owned Areva permission to build a uranium enrichment plant in Idaho.