RE: "Eunice Nuclear Waste Has No Place To Go" editorial
The Journal's editorial suggestion that Louisiana Energy Services (LES) is "shouldering off responsibility" for the treatment and disposal of its waste byproduct completely misunderstands the realities of this waste product, what LES has committed to and how this issue can be handled for the benefit of the people of New Mexico.
LES announced plans in September to build the National Enrichment Facility (NEF) in Lea County. Our plant would be the first large, nongovernmental, commercial nuclear project in the United States in nearly two decades, and the first of its kind in North America.
Getting to this point required significant commitments to the state‹ commitments that LES continues to be completely prepared to fulfill.
The uranium enrichment process to be carried out at the NEF creates a low-level radiation byproduct that must be deconverted to the chemically stable oxide form before being disposed of in existing low-level waste repositories.
We received many questions, both at the local level in Lea County and at the state level, about what happens to that byproduct, which is stored on site in specially designed, and federally certified uranium byproduct cylinders (UBCs).
I wrote to the governor Aug. 6 making a commitment on behalf of LES to him and to the citizens of New Mexico to ensure that these UBCs would be disposed of as quickly as possible. In addition, LES committed that there would not be storage of UBCs in the state of New Mexico beyond the life of the plant or disposal of UBCs in New Mexico at any time. My company and I stand by that commitment.
So how are UBCs disposed of? In the United States today, the Department of Energy is planning to build two deconversion facilities that will be able to process this byproduct. Deconversion technology is simple and proven. It has been done in Europe for many years. Once deconverted the byproduct can be safely disposed of at existing disposal sites in the United States‹ none of which are in New Mexico.
The language in the now dead energy bill would have required equal treatment for LES and our competitor, USEC, in the handling of depleted uranium hexafluoride byproduct.
However, for many reasons, including the large volume of byproduct already in U.S. storage, the DOE deconversion facilities are not LES' path of choice for the deconversion of our future byproduct; they are simply a backup option. LES has continually supported the development of a commercial, private sector deconversion facility. In fact, the company will seek to develop long-term supply contracts with potential deconversion operators in order to assist in their financing and licensing efforts to build such a facility.
If the DOE deconversion facilities are completed before a private facility can be built, using a DOE option as a disposal path would enable us to help meet our commitment to remove the byproduct from New Mexico in the most expeditious manner.
Regardless of whether or not the private sector beats the DOE to the punch, the people of New Mexico are best served if LES has viable options available to accomplish our mutual goals.
The greater the deconversion opportunities, the faster LES will be able to move its UBC's out of New Mexico for final disposal. This was the essence of my commitment in August and it is my commitment today.
Nuclear power supplies 20 percent of U.S. electricity, but less than 15 percent of the uranium enrichment services delivered to customers in the United States were produced in this country.
Without the construction of a new uranium enrichment facility in the United States, our nation will increase its dependence on foreign energy supplies, not only in the form of oil, but in the area of nuclear fuel.
The NEF will be a significant contributor to United States energy independence and security.
LES is committed to the safe production of enriched uranium, the safe handling of byproduct cylinders and the protection of our environment. We remain steadfast in our efforts to identify and use a private, economically viable byproduct disposal path that will allow us to meet these goals for the good of our company, but more importantly, for the good of New Mexico.
LES, a consortium of European and U.S. companies in the nuclear energy business, plans to build a uranium enrichment facility in Lea County.