LEA COUNTY, N.M. — Concerns about how a proposed uranium enrichment
facility near Eunice, N.M., will dispose of its waste have prompted
the New Mexico Attorney General's Office and others to file for
standing in an upcoming Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing on the
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not set a date for the hearing
Washington, D.C.-based organizations Public Citizen and the Nuclear
Information and Resource Service have filed a combined petition with
the NRC. The New Mexico Attorney General's Office has filed
separately as has the New Mexico Environment Department.
"The waste is really the concern," said Michael Mariotte, executive
director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service in
Mariotte said people fear waste from the plant will stay on the site
and be a danger to them. He said waste from the plant will be UF6, or
uranium hexafluoride, a dangerous substance.
According to a news release from Public Citizen and the organizations
joined with it, "the license application presented by LES (Louisiana
Energy Services) is replete with inaccuracies and blatant omissions."
"We intend to call LES to task on these deficiencies," said Wenonah
Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Energy and Environment program.
Marshall Cohen, vice president of communications and government for
LES, which wants to build the National Enrichment Facility near
Eunice, said the corporation is analyzing the petitions to intervene
and will be responding to the issues raised in them.
Public Citizen and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service have
followed LES' efforts to build a uranium enrichment plant for many
years. "We don't think the case has been made that this plant is
necessary," Hauter said.
Mariotte said there is no place in the country to dispose of uranium
hexafluoride. To deplete it, Mariotte said the hydrogen fluoride can
be stripped out of UF6, but you have to have the facility to do it.
The U.S. Department of Energy plans to build two facilities to
deplete uranium in Portsmouth, Ohio, and Paducah, Ky.
Hauter said there are many site issues with the proposed plant:
The New Mexico Attorney General's Office has the following concerns:
- Public Citizen is concerned that the NRC has not adequately
assessed the impact of the facility on local ground and surface water.
- The plant won't use too much water, but it is "one more strain" on
the arid environment.
- The organization is concerned about LES' deconversion plans; the
company's plans to dispose of spent uranium.
- Public Citizen is also concerned about plant security issues,
especially given the current world climate, Hauter said. In line with
that, there is also concern about the natural gas lines that run
fairly close to the plant and the chance for explosion and fire.
Cohen said NRIS and Public Citizen are "admittedly out to kill the
- "Ultimately, if the plant is not economically viable, the 90
percent majority owners, which are foreign entities, may simply
abandon their investment," the filing said. In that case, problems of
cleanup and plant dismantling might fall on New Mexico.
Cohen said this is not going to happen. He said LES has not had a
chance to talk to the Attorney General's Office to see what their
thinking is on this issue.
- If UF6, known as tails, is left on the plant site for decades, it
could pose environmental risk to the state, the filing said.
- In its current application, LES identified two "plausible"
approaches for waste disposal: other private investors would
construct a "deconversion" plant to change the depleted UF6 into
U308, (where the hydrogen fluoride is stripped out) and the U308
would be buried in an exhausted uranium mine.
Under the second plan, LES would require the Department of Energy to
dispose of the waste at a price determined by DOE.
DOE already has 704,000 metric tons of its own to dispose of, the
filing said. "The actual obstacles to disposal are suggested by the
Jan. 15, 2004, letter to NRC from Gov. Bob Taft of Ohio, who stated
that waste from a New Mexico plant would not be allowed in Ohio," the
- How LES will pay for disposal is unclear also, the filing said.
- LES's estimates for disposing of the "tails" are "suspect" and will
wind up being more costly than the company thinks.
Cohen said LES will set aside money for decommissioning as set by the
Cohen said LES believes the issues raised by the New Mexico Attorney
General's Office and in a petition from the New Mexico Environment
Department, can be resolved. "And we look forward to working with
them," he said.