Last week, the Snake River Alliance learned that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had granted a license to the French Based company, Areva, to build a uranium enrichment factory in Idaho, near Idaho Falls. This announcement was expected, but no less disappointing. For nearly four years, the Alliance has worked to oppose this proposed facility. From the beginning, we have argued there is no need for more enriched uranium to fuel nuclear power reactors. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, that point is even more obvious, given the rapid and continuing shrinkage of the global and national nuclear market.
We made this point most recently in July before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, the body tasked by the NRC to determine whether a proposed nuclear facility receives a license. We argued and continue to maintain that NRC regulations for the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) require the NRC to prepare a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement in the event of “changed circumstances” surrounding a license applicant. Those “changed circumstances” are: a significant depression in the uranium market following the nuclear crisis in Japan, greatly increased cost estimates for new reactors, and a markedly reduced pace of new nuclear project construction. Many of you joined us in this argument. Alliance members submitted nearly 200 comments making this point to the NRC.
Thus far, the NRC has not responded to this argument, and we plan to insist on an answer. The NRC has always had a very problematic charge: both to regulate the nuclear industry and to promote it. That second mission has led it to grant an unwarranted license in this instance. Not only is this facility unnecessary, but it will also produce 350,000 metric tons of depleted uranium that will be stored above the Snake River Aquifer indefinitely. Uranium enrichment is a proliferation technology, and this facility, if built, will be funded in part by a $2 billion loan guarantee made with our taxpayer dollars. Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for a risky investment by a private company when no need exists for new reactor fuel.
A license from the NRC is one step in a very long process. We won’t know for awhile whether this facility can be built or not. Areva is a very financially unstable corporation and recent news reports indicate all its future project investments are in flux. Areva CEO Luc Oursel told a French parliamentary hearing October 12 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. But Areva continues to say it plans to start construction on this project in the Spring of 2012.
We need you as much as ever to help us raise our voice against this ill-suited project. At a time when people around the world are calling for an end to corporate greed, Areva’s enrichment factory represents a very real example of a misuse of government funds for the glutinous nuclear industry. Over the next several months we hope you will join us in criticizing the issuance of this license through letters to the editor, talking to elected officials, and joining us at our events. Please stay tuned for more opportunities to defeat this project.