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Areva’s Delay in Idaho Uranium Factory No Surprise

By

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Dec. 13, 2011
CONTACT: Snake River Alliance
Liz Woodruff, Executive Director
208-344-9161 (w); 208-871-4597 (c)

 

Areva’s Delay in Idaho Uranium Factory No Surprise

Snake River Alliance Has Questioned Need for Project Since Beginning

Today’s announcement by French-owned Areva Enrichment Services that it is suspending construction of its planned uranium enrichment factory near Idaho Falls comes as no surprise and is further evidence that the so-called “nuclear renaissance” is a mirage, the Snake River Alliance said.

“Areva’s decision was inevitable,” Alliance Executive Director Liz Woodruff said. “One thing we don’t need on this planet is more enriched uranium and radioactive waste. There are ample fuel supplies for the world’s existing nuclear reactor fleet, and plans for new reactors are falling by the wayside due to huge costs and our inability to manage the nuclear waste we have already produced.”

On Tuesday, the company said it is putting “on hold” numerous projects, including the Eagle Rock enrichment facility, African uranium mining projects, and expansions or additions to a number of existing facilities. Areva also said it continues to pursue capital funding for the Idaho project, although global investments in the nuclear sector have all but dried up over the past year.

Areva’s announcement will come as a blow to eastern Idaho communities that had planned on the jobs the Eagle Rock project could have generated, but Woodruff said the workers who might have been hired are highly skilled and therefore highly employable. “Clearly Areva did not have the means to develop a project like this.”

Areva, which is mostly owned by the French government and is one of the world’s largest nuclear services conglomerates, has been experiencing serious financial challenges and is undergoing a sweeping reorganization as it struggles to stay afloat. Its flagship “new generation” reactor project in Finland has been beset with chronic delays and massive cost overruns. The company has been shedding many of its assets, and its chief executive, Anne Lauvergeon (aka “Atomic Anne”) was ousted earlier this year. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted Areva a license to build its gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant west of Idaho Falls in October.

Areva’s proposed Eagle Rock enrichment factory was purported to meet what the company said was a growing demand for fuel to power existing and new nuclear reactors, but the demand has fallen sharply due in part to the nuclear reactor disaster at Fukushima, Japan, earlier this year. The Idaho plant would have converted uranium “yellow cake” into enough fuel to power 50 nuclear reactors. It would have also generated 350,000 metric tons of depleted uranium waste that would be stored at the Idaho site indefinitely. Unlike other forms of nuclear waste, the depleted uranium that would be created in Idaho grows increasingly dangerous for each of the million years after it’s generated.

Aside from the lack of need, Woodruff said the Alliance raised serious concerns about the proposed plant’s environmental impacts and about the federal licensing and review process.

“Even the state of Idaho raised environmental concerns about this dangerous project,” Woodruff said. “It’s regrettable that the state, Bonneville County and the city of Idaho Falls have invested so much in a project that is doomed to failure, but it’s better that the project be stopped now rather than later. Idaho should be planning for a clean energy future rather than clinging to a dangerous technology that will leave a legacy of deadly waste.”

The Alliance recently called on the NRC to order a full reassessment of its Areva license review in light of the huge changes in the nuclear power sector in the wake of the Fukushima catastrophe. Nuclear experts worldwide predict the growth of the nuclear sector will remain stagnant for years, while a number of countries have begun the process of shutting down their reactors due to safety and other concerns.

 

The Alliance also questioned why the U.S. Department of Energy made a conditional commitment of a $2 billion loan guarantee to Areva, essentially putting U.S. taxpayers on the hook if the project were to fail, while knowing Areva was in dire financial straits. Tuesday’s announcement bears that out and shows that the likelihood of Areva securing a U.S. taxpayer-funded loan guarantee now to move the project forward is all but eliminated.

 

In addition, Woodruff said Areva’s decision to suspend the Eagle Rock project means the NRC and other agencies would need to conduct their environmental and other reviews from scratch. Even if Areva re-starts its efforts to build Eagle Rock, global conditions will have changed so dramatically that the NRC would need to conduct entirely new environmental and licensing reviews, which would take years to complete.

 

The Snake River Alliance works for responsible solutions to nuclear waste and a nuclear-free future. It seeks to strengthen Idaho’s economy and communities through the implementation of renewable energy sources in Idaho and the promotion of energy efficiency and conservation.

 

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Download full press release here.

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