Areva recently chose Idaho Falls for the location of its proposed $2 billion uranium enrichment plant. Areva, a French-owned energy services company, said that it received the best overall economic package from Idaho officials. Five states were in the running, including New Mexico.
The proposed location for the Areva plant in New Mexico was between Carlsbad and Hobbs. Currently, the National Enrichment Facility, which will also enrich uranium, is under construction near Eunice, on the Texas/New Mexico border. It is operated by Louisiana Energy Services and owned by Urenco, a European company.
Eddy and Lea Counties offered Areva an incentive package they valued at $316 million. Nevertheless, Areva officials were concerned about the workforce shortage in the Carlsbad area, water availability and high electricity costs.
Uranium enrichment facilities use centrifuges to separate the uranium isotopes for use in nuclear power plants. These facilities require large amounts of electricity to operate.
Michael McMurphy, president and chief executive officer of Areva, explained why Idaho was chosen. "Everything was considered. We considered the site characteristics. We considered the technical aspects. And, of course, we're in business to make a profit. We did consider the economic package."
In response to this week's announcement, New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici said, "To say I'm disappointed with this decision would be an understatement. I believe New Mexico offered the best overall advantages for an Areva enrichment facility. Our state and local leaders presented what I believe to be a terrific offer, and they should be proud of their efforts despite the decision."
In order to receive the tax breaks, Areva promised Idaho leaders thousands of construction jobs and approximately 250 full-time jobs, with an average salary of $70,000, when operations begin. Areva is required to obtain licenses and permits from local, state and federal regulatory bodies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
Don Hancock, of the Southwest Research and Information Center, based in Albuquerque, explained the NRC process for the National Enrichment Facility. "The NRC licensed the plant even though there was no waste disposal site. Uranium enrichment plant waste is both radioactive and toxic and there is no disposal site. So any new enrichment plant is a long-term radioactive and hazardous waste dump. That's not good for New Mexico, Idaho, or anywhere."
Since learning about the Areva proposal in January, the Snake River Alliance, Idaho's nuclear watchdog, has opposed it. Andrea Shipley, Executive Director of the non-governmental organization, 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. It is premised on expanding nuclear power, which is an expensive and dirty power source. As we all know, nuclear power produces waste every step of the way, from uranium mining and milling to uranium enrichment and power production. 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 plan."