Feb. 14, 2011
CONTACT: Snake River Alliance
Liz Woodruff, Executive Director
208-344-9161 (w); 208-871-4597 (c)

NRC: ‘No Significant Impacts’ from Nuke Factory
Snake River Alliance Questions Nuclear Regulatory Commission Findings

The federal government’s announcement Monday that a proposed uranium enrichment factory outside of Idaho Falls passed its environmental review with flying colors comes as no surprise, but raises serious questions about the quality of the environmental review and the government’s failure to address scores of questions raised by concerned Idahoans, the Snake River Alliance said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that “there are no significant environmental impacts that would preclude licensing a proposed uranium enrichment facility in Bonneville County, Idaho.” The NRC said the proposed Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility by French-owned Areva Enrichment Services (AES) poses “generally small” environmental impacts. The NRC also recommended Areva be granted a license for the controversial facility.

“The NRC’s conclusion comes as absolutely no surprise, but that doesn’t make this dangerous project any more defensible,” Snake River Alliance Executive Director Liz Woodruff said. “The public record in this case is overflowing with legitimate concerns, including by the state of Idaho. The NRC began telegraphing its support for this project long before it even solicited public comment from scores of concerned Idahoans. It doesn’t appear those concerns were taken very seriously.”

Woodruff noted the NRC has been giving Areva the green light in Idaho since before the environmental impacts of its project were known. For instance, the federal nuclear regulator allowed Areva – a company with a dismal international environmental record – to begin widespread “preconstruction” activities at the Eagle Rock site. Areva was actually allowed to begin breaking ground for the uranium enrichment factory just three months after public meetings on the project were held in Boise and in Idaho Falls.

Areva’s project is planned for a site just east of the Idaho National Laboratory. If built, the factory would use gas centrifuges to enrich uranium “yellow cake” into enough fuel to power 50 nuclear reactors – despite the fact the so-called “nuclear renaissance” has stalled and there are ample supplies of fuel for the existing U.S. reactor fleet. The processing would generate 350,000 metric tons of depleted uranium waste that would be stored at the Idaho site for the foreseeable future, as there currently are no ways to handle the waste. Unlike other forms of nuclear waste, the depleted uranium created in this process gets increasingly dangerous for each of the one million years after it is generated.

Woodruff said the preconstruction activities permitted by the NRC even before the environmental review was complete – and long before a license is up for consideration – seem to ignore the agency’s own acknowledgment that these activities will take a toll on historic and cultural resources, not to mention sensitive species such as sage grouse. The state of Idaho acknowledged its concerns on the sage grouse issue when it commented to the NRC that “Construction of a new transmission line could contribute to avian mortality as a result of bird collisions with the power lines, and could affect migratory bird species. Greater sage-grouse and sharp-tailed grouse, which are known to occur in the area, could be impacted due to the proximity of US 20 and movements between habitat north and south of the highway and proposed transmission line, or when migrating between seasonal use areas… In addition, raptors, such as hawks and eagles, may perch on transmission line support structures, potentially resulting in mortality from electrocution. Ferruginous hawks, which net in the region, could also be affected by the new transmission lines.”

Of critical importance, Woodruff said, the NRC ignored evidence that the uranium enrichment factory is not needed. She noted the nuclear fuel produced from such a factory would be sent worldwide, while and Areva’s profits would be sent home to France, and the resulting depleted uranium waste from the process would remain atop Idaho’s Snake River Aquifer, the sole-source aquifer for more than 300,000 people, for decades. The Alliance also raised concerns about the possible threats posed by the transportation of radioactive materials into and out of Idaho

“The NRC is notorious for taking public comment, acting like it’s actually listening to the concerns from the public, and then ignoring those concerns and siding with the nuclear industry,” Woodruff said. “In this instance, the NRC ignored hundreds of comments from all over Idaho and instead served the interests of a French government-owned company. It is a shame that the testimony of more than 150 Idahoans seems to have fallen on deaf ears and that the NRC has decided not to adequately access the serious impacts this project will inflict on Idaho’s land, air, wildlife and water.”

Woodruff also said the NRC improperly played down the impacts the dangerous waste from the Eagle Rock facility will bring to Idaho.
By claiming that the environmental impacts of the proposed plant are, in the NRC’s words, ‘small,’ the NRC is ignoring the indefinite storage of depleted uranium hexafluoride above the Snake River Aquifer. Because this depleted uranium waste has nowhere to go, it will remain a radioactive threat to Idaho and Idahoans for the foreseeable future.”

The Snake River Alliance has long said it supports creating new clean energy jobs and a new energy economy for Idaho. This project does neither.

“Idaho should be looking to its developing renewable energy and energy efficiency businesses, which are already bringing needed economic stimulus to all corners of Idaho and providing a major boost to rural communities, their school districts, property owners and businesses,” Woodruff said. “Where’s the positive economic impact from an unnecessary uranium enrichment plant designed to provide fuel for reactors that don’t yet exist, and that given today’s energy and economic climates probably won’t?”

Woodruff noted Areva’s Idaho project wouldn’t have made it this far if not for a $2 billion U.S. taxpayer-funded federal loan guarantee and millions of dollars in state tax incentives designed specifically for the Eagle Rock project. In addition, Idaho taxpayers through the state Transportation Department are footing the bill for a $750,000 overpass to be built at the still-nonexistent project.
“This is a project that clearly can’t stand on its own two feet,” she said. “Rather than pouring millions of dollars out of state and federal coffers into a project that will ship its money back home to France, the money could have been spent on clean energy projects that provide power to Idaho, jobs to Idahoans, and revenues to struggling state and local budgets.”

According to the NRC, the FEIS is available on the NRC website at
More information about the application and the NRC’s review process is available at

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.