Senator Domenici Proposes Uranium Enrichment Facility in Southeastern New Mexico

NRC Proposes to Deregulate and Release Radioactive Solid Waste for Recycling

* Senator Pete Domenici recently renewed his proposal to establish a uranium enrichment facility near the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (or WIPP). Domenici sent a letter to George Dials, the former manager of WIPP, who is currently the head of Louisiana Energy Services (or LES), which is primarily considering locating the facility in Tennessee. Domenici claimed that the area near Carlsbad has "superb attributes for [the] facility."

Enriched uranium is key to increasing nuclear energy production in the U.S. Uranium enrichment involves concentration of one particular isotope of natural uranium for fuel in nuclear power plants. LES is working with Urenco, Incorporated, which is a European uranium enrichment service company, to establish its first facility in the U.S. The materials are currently produced at the former Department of Energy sites at Portsmouth, Ohio and Paducah, Kentucky. However, the process used at those facilities is older and more costly than the process used by Urenco.

The project has met with resistance in Tennessee. LES and Urenco evaluated a site in the Carlsbad area previously and found it unsuitable for their purposes. However, Domenici's letter attempts to reassure them that "...Many other sites could have been proposed for consideration in this general area, and I welcome your interest in re-exploring the other candidate sites if your progress in Tennessee is stymied."

Domenici promoted New Mexico's familiarity with nuclear technologies, claiming that the location of Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories and WIPP make New Mexico suitable for another nuclear facility. Domenici claimed, "Nuclear technologies are well understood and appreciated in this area."

* The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (or NRC) recently proposed again to deregulate and release radioactive solid waste without restrictions. This could mean that contaminated metals and concrete that are considered to be below regulatory concern (or BRC) may be released to recycling programs, disposed of in unlicensed landfills, or incinerated. NRC has requested comments on the scope of its proposed rulemaking regarding the disposition of these materials, which more than 100 organizations nationwide claim will unnecessarily endanger millions of people.

According to a National Academies of Science report released last year, nuclear materials are already being released on a case-by-case basis. The report verified that, "[t]he amount of these materials is not known because there is no requirement to document the materials released." The cost of all radioactive solid waste disposal is estimated to be as high as $11.7 billion. The report added that, "clearance of all this material could allow the option of recycle or reuse ... and would avoid essentially all disposal costs."

Although the report, which was commissioned by NRC, recommends greater public participation in NRC activities, many of the groups pointed out that their opposition to release of radioactive solid waste has been ignored many times before. Diane D'Arrigo, of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, said, "The NRC is back again trying to legalize putting nuclear power and weapons waste into our belt buckles, baby toys and frying pans. The public response is still, 'No! We won't take it!'...."

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