Feds crazy to ignore Curry-Madrid challenge
Santa Fe New Mexican editorial
July 21, 2004

        It's easy to see why the corporate world would like to take its messes to New Mexico: wide-open spaces and comparatively few people to protest environmental depredations; for that matter, locals dying to play host to whatever brings in business - never mind the risk.

      So a transnational company calling itself Louisiana Energy Services, its project already chased out of that state and Tennessee to boot, is trying to build a uranium-enrichment plant down along the Texas border .

      It's jobs for Hobbs and Eunice. But it poses sufficient threat to the land and what water lies beneath it, for Gov. Bill Richardson, his environment secretary , Ron Curry, and state Attorney General Patricia Madrid to bring their challenges to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission .

      Oh, bother, the board said Monday; the state has no standing in this matter.

      Oh, yes they do, your boardship; Richardson and Madrid were elected to protect the people of New Mexico, the state most likely to be affected by sloppily stored radioactive waste.

      And forgive us hicks for wondering just how concerned you are about the environmental effects of enriching uranium. It's just that we're seeing the feds in cahoots with nuclear-industry attempts to reclassify nuclear waste headed for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant just up the road from where this plant would be built.

      We, in the person of Secretary Curry, can't help thinking how convenient it would be for this company to leave radioactive material lying around - and lest the public worry about it, just reclassify the stuff; call it "resource material," rather than "waste."

      That's just one concern Curry asked the board to consider. Stockpiling waste on site was another - and, for good measure, the secretary broached the question of what happens if the company's overseas owners hit hard financial times and decide to walk away from their $1.8 billion investment?

      We'll look into such matters, said the board - but we'll work with a couple of advocacy groups, Public Citizen and the Nuclear Information and Research Service. So it could be worse; those two groups had a strong role in stopping LES' efforts to put this enrichment plant in Louisiana and Tennessee.

      But to ignore two key state agencies in favor of easier-buckable citizens' groups is poor public policy - and neither Madrid nor Curry can be pushed aside so easily. Count on those state officials to ask the NRC to overrule the board - and, failing that, seeking court injunctions against the project.

      Louisiana Energy executives insist they're still committed to working with the state, as well they should be. Not even the Bushiest of federal courts is likely to give the go-ahead to such a project without lead-clad guarantees that the nuclear waste will be safely stored and disposed of.

      Gov. Richardson might see this project as a great gain for his economic-development campaign, but the former energy secretary also is well aware of its environmental risks. Our diplomatic Democratic governor must work with Republican Sen. Pete Domenici, who wants to turn Southeastern New Mexico into a "nuclear corridor," to hold the hazards of nuclear development to a minimum.

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