N.M. Seeks Role in Uranium Plant Decision
Associated Pres
March 23, 2004

       SANTA FE   -   The state Environment Department on Tuesday asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to intervene in a license application for a proposed uranium enrichment plant near Eunice in southeastern New Mexico.

    The state also requested that the NRC hold a public hearing on the proposed Louisiana Energy Services plant, which the NRC would have to license before it could operate.

    If the commission grants the state's petition, it would give New Mexico legal standing in hearings on the plant and the right to raise issues and cross-examine witnesses.

    An LES spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.     The state has raised questions about waste storage, waste classification and health and safety.

    "This level of involvement will help clarify issues important to the state and its citizens including the future disposition of all waste products," Environment Secretary Ron Curry said.

    The NRC in January accepted the company's application, the first step in a comprehensive review of the proposed $1.2 billion factory, which would enrich uranium for commercial nuclear-powered electrical generating stations.

    Supporters have said the proposed factory, five miles east of Eunice, would bring badly needed jobs to southeastern New Mexico.

    Opponents contend the plant, blocked earlier in Tennessee and Louisiana, is an unneeded, water-hogging boondoggle that would generate nuclear waste with no place to go.

    Gov. Bill Richardson indicated last month he might withdraw his support for the enrichment plant unless he sees action to address concerns about final disposal of the waste it would generate.

    Uranium processing generates a type of waste that cannot be dumped legally anywhere in the United States. Such waste requires processing to convert it before it can be shipped to a low-level nuclear waste dump, but no U.S. facility can do that.

    Waste disposal is one issue the Environment Department raised in petitioning the NRC.

    The state called unacceptable LES's request for permission to store uranium hexafluoride throughout the facility's expected 30-year life.

    "To prevent the possible creation of a legacy stockpile, the state would prefer that the waste be moved out of New Mexico in a regular, timely fashion," the filing said.

    Marshall Cohen, LES vice president for communications and government relations, has said the NRC application requires storage for the life of the plant. He said LES supports Richardson's goal of not disposing of waste in New Mexico and is working with another company that would build a waste conversion facility.

    LES's application also says it may classify its waste as resource material rather than waste. The state said all uranium hexafluoride should be categorized as waste to make sure it is disposed of outside New Mexico in a timely way.

    The Environment Department also said the company's $1.5 billion financial assurance for waste disposal and eventual decommissioning of the plant is inadequate. Its review found cost estimates for disposal alone ranging from $1.9 billion to $7.2 billion.

    The department also said the application lacks sufficient information about health and safety, including calculation information on radiation doses.

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