NRC Hears Comments on Environmental Impact Statement for Uranium Enrichment Facility

* The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) held a meeting recently to gather comments regarding the scope of the environmental impact statement for the uranium enrichment facility proposed for southeastern New Mexico by Louisiana Energy Services (LES).

Although hundreds of people attended the meeting, most did not address the statement, but instead reiterated their support for the facility. For example, Harry Teague, of the Lea County Commission, presented 2,000 petition signatures to NRC in support of LES. Most support the facility due to the economic benefits it may bring to Lea County. Johnny Cope, a local businessman, said, "There [are] so many people in this room who would love to have one of those jobs."

Several Lea County and New Mexico residents, however, presented numerous concerns about the environmental impacts of the facility. Lee Cheney, of the Citizens' Nuclear Information Center in Hobbs, mentioned the facility's potential effects on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty given recent proof that the parent company of LES, Urenco, sold sensitive enrichment technology to Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Libya. Cheney also alluded to their poor environmental track record and accusations of environmental racism in Tennessee and Louisiana, the previous preferred locations for the facility. Cheney said, "It takes time for people to learn the truth. It took Tennessee several years."

Rose Gardner, of Eunice, mentioned that there is no facility in the U.S. in which to process and dispose of the 140,000 tons of depleted uranium waste that would be produced. Gardner said, "Not having a solid or definitive plan for the waste is not acceptable to me." Both New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry and Senator Jeff Bingaman echoed this concern. Both requested that NRC pay particular attention to waste disposal in the environmental impact statement.

Some Lea County residents were openly displeased with opposition to the facility. Teague said, "Those of you that are opposed to this, and you're not from Lea County, go away and leave us alone, please." However, many believe that criticism of the facility will strengthen environmental safeguards. Becky Lo Dolce, of Santa Fe, said, "You can have concerns about this facility without being opposed to economic development in Lea County just as you can have concerns about your child's school without being opposed to their getting an education."

New Mexico State Representative Janice Arnold-Jones said that she is confident that the LES facility will be safe because, "The NRC has ... adopted a culture of lessons learned. If we make ... mistakes, are we going to be agile, are we going to be able to a deal with it? One of things I like about LES is that they are actively asking those questions...."

Amy Williams, of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, responded, saying "Likewise, New Mexico is a state of lessons learned. Hundreds of sick and dying uranium miners and millers near Gallup and Grants have taught us to be wary of any new uranium facilities in New Mexico, including LES. Are we going to learn from those mistakes?"

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