Idaho Energy Update
May 9, 2008
Idahoans continue to react with alarm over reports that thousands of tons of weapons-contaminated sand are being shipped from Kuwait to Grand View in one of the priciest trash pick-ups ever; as well as reports that the Idaho Legislature was successful in rolling out the red carpet to a French firm that will import milled uranium into Idaho, produce nuclear fuel for power plants, and leave a mountain of dangerous waste at its proposed site outside Idaho Falls. Meanwhile, Canada-based Iogen, which Idahoans assumed was a lock to build a major cellulosic ethanol plant in Shelley, has shut down its Idaho operations and is headed back to Saskatchewan, where the subsidies are much greener.
See below for more information on these and other developments.
Thanks as always, and if you have any calendar items, please send them my way!
Clean Energy Program Director
Snake River Alliance
(208) 344-9161 office
(208) 841-6982 cell
I: Viva Areva: French Pick Idaho to Process Toxic Uranium
The French government-controlled nuclear services firm Areva, Inc., selected Idaho as the “winner” of its sweepstakes to see which U.S. state would pony up the greatest tax incentives to lure its uranium enrichment facility.
Idaho was considered alongside Washington, New Mexico, Texas and Ohio as possible sites for a facility that will import milled uranium and convert it into uranium that’s enriched to levels suitable as fuel for nuclear power generation, but not for weapons. The process will create tons of toxic depleted uranium hexafluoride, which for the lack of a federal storage facility will have to be stored on site at the proposed Areva facility just west of Idaho Falls.
While Areva’s decision was hailed in many quarters in Idaho as an economic boon – the plant will cost about $2 billion, although Idaho lawmakers capped the property taxes at $400 million – the true economic and environmental costs to Idahoans may not be known for years, if not decades. Assuming the plant is constructed.
Areva must first navigate the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing process, and must also obtain local building permits in Bonneville County, as well as obtaining required environmental and water permits from state agencies.
Here’s the Snake River Alliance’s release on the Areva announcement:
No Good Site for Dangerous Uranium Enrichment Plant
Tuesday’s announcement by French-controlled Areva, Inc., that it selected Idaho for its proposed uranium enrichment plant puts Idaho in the unenviable position of contributing to an industry that’s both dangerously risky and bad energy policy, the Snake River Alliance said.
“It wouldn’t matter if Areva had chosen any of the other four sites it was considering for this plant; we would oppose it no matter where Areva planned to build,” Snake River Alliance Executive Director Andrea Shipley said. “We oppose expanding uranium enrichment wherever it occurs. It is premised on expanding nuclear power, which is an expensive and dirty power source.”
The Alliance fought in the recent Legislature against two bills that amounted to multimillion-dollar giveaways aimed at luring Areva to Idaho. Shipley said the Alliance will continue attempts to block construction of the Areva plant by educating Idahoans on the true risks posed by the huge amounts of dangerous radioactive waste that will be generated by an enrichment plant.
“As we all know, nuclear power produces waste every step of the way, from uranium mining and milling to uranium enrichment and power production,” Shipley said. “With Areva’s announcement, we will engage our members and supporters in what we know will be a long process as Areva begins its uphill fight to secure federal, state, and local permits for this ill-advised industrial plant.” Shipley said the Alliance and its statewide membership will closely monitor Areva’s required permit applications with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as well as with Bonneville County and the state Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Water Resources.
“Areva may have convinced Idaho legislators that this plant is harmless and good for the local economy,” Shipley said. “We will be working to make sure Idahoans know the real facts – facts that were not allowed to be raised during legislative hearings last winter.”
Shipley noted Areva’s announcement comes as Idahoans are still up in arms after learning that 6,700 tons of dangerously contaminated sand are due to arrive in Idaho this month after being shipped to the United States from Kuwait. That sand, which is contaminated with depleted uranium from military munitions, was found to also contain dangerous amounts of lead after the shipments left Kuwait.
“If as we hear Idahoans are upset about the contaminated sand shipments from Kuwait, they will be even more alarmed to learn what waste Areva plans to produce from its enrichment plant,” Shipley said. “Besides producing nuclear fuel, uranium enrichment produces a very dangerous kind of nuclear waste. All nuclear waste is dangerous, but this is very dangerous.”
About 90 percent of what comes out of a uranium enrichment plant is depleted uranium hexafluoride waste, which is both radioactive and chemically toxic. If exposed to moisture – even damp air – the waste releases highly corrosive gas that damages kidneys and lungs and can be fatal. There is currently no place to dispose of this waste in the United States, so for the foreseeable future the waste would remain at the Idaho plant site.
“Areva and other supporters of this plant claim it will be an economic boon to Idaho and that it’s needed to meet future domestic energy needs with ‘clean’ nuclear power,” Shipley said. “What we should be talking about is how Idaho and its local communities can benefit from clean and sustainable renewable energy development. There is an enormous amount of wind being developed in Idaho that produces no waste and that provides even more jobs than Areva is proposing.” Ironically, there is a large wind farm now operating outside Idaho Falls, and another large wind farm was approved in adjacent Bingham County last month.
“This is Idaho’s energy future,” Shipley said. “Why would any Idahoan want nuclear power when we can more than meet our energy needs by promoting Idaho’s abundant renewable resources and implementing more energy efficiency and conservation measures? A uranium enrichment plant will only enable a nuclear power industry that will leave a legacy of toxic and radioactive waste and divert energy investment dollars that should be used for a clean energy future.”
The Snake River Alliance has a long history of advocating for the cleanup of the radioactive legacy from the Cold War at the Idaho National Laboratory and protecting the Snake River Aquifer that lies underneath the contamination. It also advocates clean energy alternatives to nuclear and fossil fuel power generation.
II: Sand Trap: Toxic Kuwait Sand Begins Arriving in Idaho – More on Its Way
Idahoans continued to light up the switchboards on radio call-in shows and jam the blogs in outrage over how a shipment of 6,700 tons of contaminated sand could have left Kuwait several weeks ago without the U.S. Army first telling the recipients of the waste that it also contained unexpectedly high levels of lead.
The toxic sand was contaminated during an accident at a U.S. Army base during the first Gulf War when Army vehicles and munitions caught fire, leeching the depleted uranium from the munitions into the sand and rendering it contaminated. The sand has since been dug up, placed in special bags and then in shipping containers, and then sent via ship to Washington state, where environmental regulators realized it was more contaminated than first believed. The first shipments of the sand have already arrived in Idaho at the U.S. Ecology waste site in Owyhee County, and another shipment will soon be on its way.
U.S. Ecology and various state and federal agencies say the contamination levels in the shipments are well within tolerances of what the Grand View facility can handle. In fact, the site has disposed of previous shipments in recent years, and all have been certified as meeting health and safety standards.
The issue now is whether Idaho will consider taking a fresh look at the kinds of materials allowed to be buried at private or government-owned dumps within its borders, and also whether such shipments should be more thoroughly inspected before they leave their point of origin.
III: May 15 is STILL Deadline to Comment on Idaho Power Conservation Program
The deadline is May 15 for those who want to weigh in on Idaho Power’s proposal to increase ratepayer support for the company’s energy efficiency and conservation programs.
Idaho Power has asked the PUC to approve an increase from the current 1.5 percent of base revenues to 2.5 percent to boost funding for the company’s “demand response” and energy efficiency programs, which are designed to reduce the amount of electricity the company needs during times of peak use as well as to reduce overall consumption. The company says the 1 percent increase in what’s known as a tariff rider would generate an additional $16 million, up from the current $9 million, to fund energy-saving programs.
To review the proposal, the Commission’s order, and related documents, go to the Commission’s website at www.puc.state.id.us and go to the File Room, then Electric Cases, and then to IPC-E-08-03.
IV: Iogen Pulls Plug on Idaho Plant, Heads Back to Canada
Idaho may have won the prize in attracting a toxic uranium enrichment plant, but its hopes to attract a far cleaner energy industry were dashed this week when the Canadian biotech giant Iogen Corp. said it was bailing out of Idaho and taking its proposed cellulosic ethanol facility instead to Saskatchewan.
Many Idaho officials expressed confidence in recent weeks and months that Idaho was a lock for the Iogen cellulosic ethanol plant, so the news came as a shock to eastern Idaho, where the plant would have been located near Shelley.
Unlike traditional corn-based ethanol, the cellulosic process uses various plant materials, including straw and other plant wastes, to produce ethanol. The idea is to not divert crops from livestock and other consumptive uses, but rather uses ag wastes as a feedstock.
Sen. Larry Craig blamed Idaho’s failure to land the sought-after energy plant on the U.S. Department of Energy, which Craig said failed to cough up enough subsidies for the Canadian firm quick enough. The Canadians jumped in and threw more subsidies in Iogen’s direction, and apparently that convinced the company to shut down its Idaho operations.
The Idaho-Iogen deal was seen as so certain that several farmers in eastern Idaho signed contracts with Iogen to sell waste wheat and barley straw and other crop leaves and stalks and grasses to fuel the now-gone plant.
On the Agenda:
► The Idaho Public Utilities Commission holds its next decision meetings on May 12 and 19. Agendas are normally posted the day before on the Commission’s website at www.puc.state.id.us
► The NW Energy Coalition’s spring conference and board meeting is May 30-31 in Helena. Go to www.nwenergy.org for registration and other information, including the draft agenda.
► The Idaho Green Expo runs May 17-18 at the Boise Centre on the Grove in Boise. See www.idahogreenexpo.org for more information.