Sometimes we get so mired in the day-to-day struggle to stop bad nuclear ideas, we don’t appreciate good news enough. And there is good news. There are far fewer deployed nuclear bombs in the world than when “reverse the nuclear arms race” was part of the Snake River Alliance mission statement. Another bit of good news is that the long-term outlook for nuclear power remains bleak. Areva gave us some local confirmation of the dim prospects this month.
Areva announced its intention to build a uranium enrichment plant in Idaho in 2008. But it always looked as if enough startup delays could slow the plans all the way to STOP. And the delays keep mounting up, even though the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave Areva a license for the plant and the Department of Energy expressed willingness to underwrite it with some hefty taxpayer support. The Fukushima tragedy in March 2011 put all nuclear projects on shaky ground. It was particularly serious for Areva and revealed that the French corporation was over-extended in a softening nuclear market. Areva was forced it to suspend a number of projects around the globe, including the Idaho factory. The Fukushima tragedy weakened the nuclear market even more. Uranium prices keep falling even as a key rival, Urenco, expands its operations in New Mexico (without taxpayer funds). So the startup date for the Idaho factory has slid from 2011 to 2012 to 2013 to 2014 to…. On May 23 Areva acknowledged it was imprudent to name any startup date while its search for financial partners continues. It now has 3 people working in Idaho on what was to be a $4-billion endeavor.
Another piece of good news: Despite sequestration, the Idaho Cleanup Project will be able to continue exhuming plutonium-contaminated waste buried above Idaho’s drinking water. By earlier this spring, 3.11 acres had been dug up.
There is, of course, plenty of bad news, too. Here in Idaho, the Materials and Fuels Complex is where 16 workers were exposed to airborne plutonium in late 2011. In April, improperly stored fissile material was discovered in a vault storage rack there. We’ll keep an eye on the planned “formal causal analysis.” The Integrated Waste Treatment Unit is supposed to suck the last 900,000 gallons of liquid high-level waste out of INL’s buried tanks and dry it. A startup test at IWTU last summer blew non-toxic, non-radioactive dust through the whole plant. What initially looked as if it would be a time- and money-consuming fix is taking even more money and more time than first predicted. And high-level waste remains in buried tanks above our drinking water.
Nationally, a few key senators are once again intent on a new nuclear waste policy that facilitates spent fuel consolidation. In April Senators Wyden (D-OR), Murkowski (R-AL), Alexander (R-TN), and Feinstein (D-CA) released a draft version of the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 for review and comment.
The Snake River Alliance comments outlined Idaho’s strong resistance to “interim” nuclear waste storage, starting with a 1974 Blue Ribbon Study Commission, running through the 1995 Settlement Agreement banning commercial waste and the 1996 referendum approving that ban. We argued against consolidating spent fuel storage because it encourages reprocessing and almost certainly guarantees that there will never be a long-term solution to the nuclear waste dilemma facing this country. The current bill outlines a process that would encourage states and communities to rush decisions that might affect them for millennia to come. Read our comments here.