BACKGROUND ON THE LES “WHITE PAPERS”
At an April 30, 2002 meeting at the NRC, LES submitted six “white papers” which very briefly, and with little legal foundation, explain the company’s rationale that the NRC Commissioners should decide critical issues before LES even submits a license application, thereby ensuring that members of the public, and state and local governments could not bring these issues up in licensing hearings. This approach is a transparent effort to limit effective public participation in hearings on an LES facility (at the time, LES had not even chosen a site), and to “resolve” in its favor the very issues that LES failed on when it attempted to build a similar facility in Louisiana, becoming the first entity ever to be denied a license by the NRC.
These issues include:
Analysis of Need and No Action Alternative Under NEPA
NEPA is the law that requires preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement for all major projects. Under that law, companies wishing to build major facilities must prove that their facilities are needed and not just being built because someone wants to make a profit. In the first LES case, we were successful in challenging the project before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) on the basis that LES had not proved there was a need for a new uranium enrichment plant. The NRC Commissioners later sent this issue back to the licensing board for further review, which never occurred because LES ended the project.
LES wants the NRC Commissioners to rule now that there IS a need for this project, before any such need has been demonstrated. This would be a blatant display of favoritism on the part of the Commissioners, and must be rejected. LES must follow the same procedures as any other corporation. It is encouraging that the NRC staff appears to reject the proposed LES approach. Public comments should adamantly reject this and demand that LES attempt to demonstrate a need for this (demonstrably unneeded) facility.
LES was defeated in
As was proved in the
The ASLB agreed with us the first time around, but was later overturned by the NRC Commissioners. LES is attempting to argue that since the NRC Commissioners overturned this ASLB decision, it need not be addressed this time. However, each case is different, and this LES is different from the previous LES. The Commissioners should not address this issue, the ASLB should. If the ASLB finds that LES is not financially qualified to build and/or operate a uranium enrichment plant, the Commissioners could and should review this finding—but not before that point.
Radioactive Waste Disposition
The LES plant would create 7,600 tons of mixed
radioactive/hazardous waste per year, in the form of UF6, or uranium
hexafluoride—a toxic, radioactive substance. The volume and toxicity of this
waste, and the very long length of its hazardous life (millions of years) make
it unsuitable for disposal in a “low-level” radioactive waste dump, yet it is
not high-level waste either. Moreover, the
LES argues that the 1996 law that created the U.S. Enrichment Corporation (which essentially transferred Dept of Energy assets to the newly-formed and private USEC) requires that the DOE take the waste from any uranium enrichment facility in the country.
This is a misreading of the law. This provision was put in merely to ensure that the new USEC would not have to bear the burden of disposing or paying for the disposal of UF6 that had been created by the previous Department of Energy facilities. It was not intended to give carte blanche to anyone wanting to build a new uranium enrichment plant that taxpayers would cover their waste disposal efforts.
Nonetheless, LES is currently in self-described “negotiations” with DOE to try to force the agenc to take their waste. So far, those negotiations have not reached resolution. Despite the non-resolution, LES still wants the NRC to rule that DOE will take the waste, and that citizens and their elected officials cannot bring up LES’ lack of a waste disposal plan as an issue in licensing hearings.
The “White Papers” also cover foreign ownership of uranium enrichment facilities--a major issue, since only USEC can produce highly-enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, if needed; LES would not be able to. And they cover antitrust reviews of the LES corporation. In recent years, the NRC has been loathe to address antitrust issues, preferring to let the market determine whether a company is engaged in unfair competition or not. However, given the competition between LES and USEC, and the fact that LES is seeking special treatment from the NRC, including the antitrust clause, which would give it a competitive edge, this is exactly the type of scenario in which the NRC MUST retain its antitrust authority.
Michael Mariotte, Nuclear Information and Resource Service,