Oct. 12, 2011
CONTACT: Snake River Alliance
Liz Woodruff, Executive Director
208-344-9161 (w); 208-871-4597 (c)
Alliance Questions NRC’s OK of Idaho Uranium Factory
 Announcement No Surprise, but Need for Enrichment Plant Still Unproven
The federal government continued its unflinching support of a French-owned uranium enrichment factory outside of Idaho Falls Wednesday, but the Snake River Alliance expressed doubt that the plant will be built because the company is on shaky financial footing and because the market for more enriched uranium has collapsed along with the so-called “nuclear renaissance.”
“There is not, never has been and never will be a need for this dangerous uranium enrichment factory,” Alliance Executive Director Liz Woodruff said immediately after the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced it had issued a license to Areva Enrichment Services to build a gas centrifuge enrichment plant in Idaho. “As we told the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board in Idaho Falls in July, there is an ample supply of enriched uranium worldwide today and the government has seriously miscalculated the need for more of it at a time when demand continues to plummet as reactor orders are canceled.”
Areva’s proposed Eagle Rock enrichment plant would use gas centrifuges to enrich uranium “yellow cake” into enough fuel to power 50 nuclear reactors. It would generate 350,000 metric tons of depleted uranium waste that would be stored at the Idaho site for the foreseeable future. Unlike other forms of nuclear waste, the depleted uranium created in this process gets increasingly dangerous for each of the million years after it is generated.
Woodruff noted the NRC’s decision flies in the face of myriad environmental concerns expressed by the state of Idaho and others during the course of the federal environmental review of the project. She also said reports by Reuters and other news agencies coming out of France as recently as Wednesday indicate Areva is still struggling with how to deal with a depressed nuclear reactor market in the aftermath of the Fukushima catastrophe that followed an earthquake and tsunami in Japan last March. 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.
“A license is one step in a very long process,” Woodruff said. “We won’t know for a while whether this facility can be built or not. Areva is a very financially unstable corporation.”
Regardless, the Alliance said the NRC should not have issued the license to Areva, since federal environmental requirements as spelled out in the National Environmental Policy Act call for a full reassessment of the license review when safety, market and other conditions change, as they did after the Fukushima disaster.
“Fukushima shook the global and domestic nuclear industry and we are seeing massive decreases in the nuclear industry globally and no new reactors being built in the United States,” she said. “Even before Fukushima, the nuclear renaissance was beginning to collapse before imploding altogether after the accident last spring.
“Without a need for this facility, the NRC is potentially putting U.S. taxpayer dollars on the line for a dubious, risky, and unnecessary facility,” Woodruff said. “This is a bad decision that does nothing to support energy security in the United States.”
Ultimately,the NRC’s decision Wednesday shows the agency fails to consider public concernswhile trying to simultaneously regulate and promote a flagging domestic nuclearindustry, the Alliance said.
TheSnake River Alliance works for responsible solutions to nuclear waste and anuclear-free future. It seeks to strengthen Idaho’s economy and communitiesthrough the implementation of renewable energy sources in Idaho and thepromotion of energy efficiency and conservation.