NRC Legal Team Requests that NMED Concerns about Uranium Enrichment Facility Be Dismissed

* Lawyers for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) this week requested that the NRC licensing board dismiss four of the five concerns raised by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) about the uranium enrichment facility proposed by Louisiana Energy Services (LES) for Lea County, New Mexico.

NMED intervened in the licensing process for the facility in order to raise concerns about disposal of radioactive waste generated by the facility, radiation protection and the financial stability of LES, among others. NRC says that only the contention regarding radiation protection would be addressed in the intervention.

NRC argues that waste concerns as outlined by NMED are unduly vague and do not adequately demonstrate that LES's plans would not protect public health. LES currently does not have any disposal plan for the thousands of tons of depleted uranium that would be generated by the facility. LES claims, however, that it is confident that a disposal facility will be constructed in the future.

NMED Secretary Ron Curry responded, saying, "All we are seeking at this point is the greatest amount of transparency possible from LES and the greatest amount of clarity possible for the people of New Mexico."

LES also requested that NRC dismiss concerns raised by the New Mexico Attorney General's Office. The Attorney General intervened in the licensing process with concerns about the economic viability of the facility and its owners, which are primarily European. One of the principal owners, British Nuclear Fuels, Limited, is on the verge of economic collapse. The Attorney General is currently drafting a response to LES's request.

LES also requested that NRC exclude two public advocacy groups, Nuclear Information and Resource Service and Public Citizen. Marshall Cohen, of LES, said, "Those groups want to delay and kill the project, and we will vigorously oppose that."

Lindsay Lovejoy, who is representing the groups, said, "My clients have presented a compelling case to be admitted as a party in the licensing hearing. The process would, no doubt, benefit from their inclusion." The groups have intervened on behalf of their members in Lea County who have concerns about the facility, including waste disposal, water availability, potential contamination and national security.

Don Hancock, of the Southwest Research and Information Center, believes that LES has reverted to the poor business practices that eventually led to the project's rejection in Louisiana and Tennessee. Hancock said, "LES's position is both frankly outrageous and pretty bizarre at this point. And frankly, I think that LES is going to lose; I think the citizens are going to be there. They are going to play an active role."

Despite concerns about the impacts of the facility on the environment and human health, LES enjoys widespread support in Lea County due to the potential economic benefits of the facility. Amy Williams, of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, said, "LES has made its first blatant attempt to shut the public out of this process. Their request perfectly illustrates their absolute disregard for the health and safety of local communities."

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