Not Waiting for EIS
Areva Breaks Ground on Uranium Plant

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is months away from completing its environmental review of a proposed uranium enrichment factory near Idaho Falls, but the project’s developer is already preparing the site for the controversial project.

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) official told the Snake River Alliance he understands site preparation work by French-owned Areva Energy Services has begun, yet a decision on licensing the facility is at least a year away. The Alliance confirmed that site-preparations are in process with Areva’s vice-president of Idaho Falls Operations, Robert Poyser.

“This only proves what we have been saying all along – that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already determined Areva can move forward with its dangerous project even before an environmental review has been completed and released to the public,” said Snake River Alliance Executive Director Andrea Shipley. “Allowing Areva to break ground just three months after public meetings on the project were held in Idaho would seem to suggest Areva already has the green light. It’s the nuclear equivalent of a high-rise developer breaking ground without a building permit.”

Areva’s proposed Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility (EREF), planned for just east of the Idaho National Laboratory, would use gas centrifuges to enrich uranium 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 are currently incomplete rules for disposing of this waste. Unlike other forms of nuclear waste, the depleted uranium created in this process gets increasingly dangerous for each of the million years after it’s generated.

“Dozens of significant concerns were raised over the project during the August NRC meetings in Boise and Idaho Falls, yet the NRC is allowing the project to move forward without addressing them,” Shipley said. “What’s the hurry? Wouldn’t it be wiser to hold off on construction until the environmental study is complete and we know what this will do to Idaho’s environment?”
At issue is the NRC’s decision last March to allow Areva to begin work on the plant site after Areva sought “exemption from certain NRC regulations to allow commencement of certain preconstruction activities” prior to issuance of a license. What kinds of activities are exempt from NRC oversight as “preconstruction” work and not subject to review?
– Clearing of approximately 240 hectares (592 acres) for the proposed EREF.
– Site grading and erosion control.
– Excavating the site including rock blasting and removal.
– Constructing a stormwater retention pond.
– Constructing main access and site roadways.
– Installing utilities.
– Erecting fences for investment protection.
– Constructing parking areas.
– Erecting construction buildings, offices (including construction trailers), warehouses, and guardhouses.

What’s all the more telling is that the NRC’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement said, “The greatest potential for impacts on historic and cultural resources would occur during ground disturbance during preconstruction.”

The Alliance and others have challenged NRC’s decision to exempt from review construction of utilities and transmission facilities, citing warnings from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game that this work may harm a variety of plant and animal species, including threatened sage grouse. In fact, the NRC’s own draft environmental review supports the state of Idaho’s concerns:

“The 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 nest in the region, could also be affected by the new transmission lines.”

“Let’s set aside for now the fact that this uranium enrichment factory is not needed, that it will pose environmental and public health threats in and out of Idaho, and that it should not be built,” Shipley said. “Let’s focus for now on the immediate impacts of what the NRC is allowing Areva to do: Start digging up Eastern Idaho and threatening Idaho’s natural resources. The NRC may consider these impacts as, in its words, ‘small.’ Countless Idahoans do not.”

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.