June 3, 2009

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Encouraged to Hold Public Hearings Statewide with Regards to French Company’s Plan for Uranium Enrichment in Idaho

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold an Environmental Impact Statement public scoping hearing Thursday to hear public comment on French-owned Areva’s plans to build a uranium enrichment facility outside of Idaho Falls and in proximity to the Idaho National Laboratory. Areva plans to store its depleted uranium hexafluoride waste on-site.

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Shilo Inn in Idaho Falls.
Most of what comes out of an enrichment plant is depleted uranium (DU) hexafluoride, a particularly
difficult-to-manage nuclear waste. The hexafluoride has to be removed at a deconversion facility before the DU can be disposed of. And with Areva coming to town without an operating deconversion
facility in the United States, we can expect that the waste will sit onsite for decades, waiting in line for deconversion and disposal.

Andrea Shipley, Executive Director of the Snake River Alliance said, “It’s a familiar story in Idaho—nuclear waste with no place to go. Not to mention that even after this waste is treated, it will
be hard to dispose of because DU becomes more radioactive over time, and it will be most dangerous one million years from now.”

Areva’s plant will produce 15,270 metric tons of waste every year and part of the plant design includes an outdoor pad big enough to hold every ton the plant will ever produce.
Tracking uranium from a mine to a reactor is a study in the nuclear reactor fuel cycle’s complexity—and pitfalls. First uranium is mined, then it’s converted, then it’s enriched, then it’s converted again. Only then is it made into reactor fuel.

Most steps in the uranium enrichment process involve transportation. Every step is expensive; produces nuclear waste; and threatens workers, other people, and Idaho’s land, water, and air.
Andrea continues, “The only difference between the uranium in nuclear reactor fuel and the uranium in nuclear bombs is the degree of enrichment. That’s why the United States and other countries don’t think Iran should enrich uranium. And that’s why we shouldn’t do it, either.”

Areva also has an unsavory track record across the globe. It runs the reprocessing plant in La Hague, France, where that single facility pours one million gallons of radioactive liquid into the English Channel each year and has contaminated the seas from France clear to the Arctic Circle. Areva has also mined uranium in Niger for the past 40 years, and activists there accuse it of destroying the lives and livelihoods of indigenous people and of depleting groundwater.

“Areva has proved that it is not a good neighbor, has not found a solution for its waste, uses technology that can lead to bomb-making and will only survive financially as long as the French government props it up. Idahoans cannot be thrilled about that,” concluded Shipley.
Nevertheless, two pieces of legislation were passed in the 2008 session to sweeten the deal for Areva to come to Idaho. H562 caps Areva’s property taxes at the first $400 million the company invests in its uranium enrichment centrifuge project so long as it spends at least $1 billion on the project. H561 gives Areva a sales tax exemption for production equipment. House bills 561 and 562 were designed to make Idaho more attractive as it vied with Washington and other states for bragging rights to host the nuclear company’s toxic operations.

“The public must understand that the nuclear fuel cycle is extremely dirty and dangerous, which is why we are advocating for public hearings in communities across the state,” Shipley said. “We are facing a recession, but this kind of job growth leaves the children of Idaho to pay the price for the poor decisions of today.”

The Snake River Alliance works for responsible solutions to nuclear waste and a nuclear-free future. We seek to strengthen Idaho’s economy and communities through the implementation of renewable energy sources in Idaho and the promotion of energy efficiency and conservation.
Our mission is to serve as Idaho’s nuclear watchdog and Idaho’s advocate for renewable and nuclear-free energy. We raise community awareness about the dangers of nuclear waste, weapons and power while working to identify and promote sustainable alternatives. We do our work through advocacy, collaboration, education and grassroots organizing.
This year, the Snake River Alliance celebrates 30 years as Idaho’s only nuclear watchdog and leading clean energy collaborator.