Security and Water Concerns at LES
The National Enrichment Facility (NEF) is moving forward to begin operations. NEF is a uranium enrichment facility, located near Eunice, New Mexico. It will produce low-enriched uranium for nuclear power plants. In June 2006, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a joint license to Louisiana Energy Services (LES) for both the construction and operation of NEF. This unprecedented dual license was issued despite many unresolved community concerns.
At the time that the license was granted, the NRC did not require that nuclear facilities be built to withstand terrorist attacks. However, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, a community group based in California, recently won a decision in the United States Court of Appeals that requires commercial nuclear facilities to prepare for a possible terrorist attack. The NRC has now issued an order that requires LES to increase security at NEF.
Similarly, Department of Energy (DOE) policy has been changed to include security analysis as a part of its decision-making process. DOE manages the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. This change was made in response to another recent court decision resulting from a lawsuit filed by two citizens groups, Tri-Valley CARES, in Livermore California, and Nuclear Watch New Mexico, of Santa Fe.
In addition to security enhancements, LES must obtain a ground water discharge permit from the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) before beginning operations. The site proposes to discharge over 32,000 gallons per day of industrial and domestic wastewater. Improper handling of the wastewater may cause contaminants, such as nitrogen compounds, uranium, fluoride and salts, to enter the ground water.
LES proposes to treat the domestic wastewater, or sewage, in order to reduce the total nitrogen levels before discharge to leachfields, where it will seep into the earth. The industrial wastewater is generated from operations at the facility. LES proposals to discharge the industrial wastewater into synthetically lined ponds for disposal by evaporation. The ponds should collect the contaminants while the water evaporates.
One area of concern is that storm water run off passing through the evaporation ponds and the leachfields may transport the contaminants. LES proposes to manage the runoff by controlling drainage and collecting storm water.
The ground water beneath NEF is not suitable for human consumption without treatment. However, the contaminants generated by NEF operations, such as uranium, are not currently present in the ground water and may prohibit future use. Many residents in the surrounding area rely on water from other underground sources.
In addition to contamination, local residents are concerned about the amount of water NEF will consume. LES states that the facility will use 7.6 million gallons of water each year.
NMED will be holding a hearing in order to solicit the public’s input on the proposed discharge permit. The public hearing will be held on Monday, January 29, 2007, beginning at 2:30 p.m. at the Eunice Community Center. NMED is also accepting written comments until January 29, 2007. Written comments may be submitted at the hearing or sent to