By BEATRICE BRAILSFORD
The economics of U.S. taxpayers underwriting $2 billion worth of debt for a French-government-owned company never looked very good. With the Fukushima disaster now delivering ongoing blows to any rationale for increased uranium enrichment for nuclear reactor fuel, it's time to reconsider Areva's bailout. We have another chance to tell Areva and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, "Not with our money!" on Monday, July 11, at 7 p.m. in Idaho Falls.
There were numerous early warnings that the nuclear renaissance rush would lead companies to overbuild enrichment capacity, particularly once the sweetener of public money was added. For instance, "Nuclear Engineering International" concluded in November 2009 that "Enrichment requirements for the world's growing fleet of nuclear power plants are expected to expand significantly. Current enrichment capacity on a worldwide basis is just sufficient to meet requirements, but the potential pace of enrichment capacity expansion is expected to out-strip the growth in requirements."
Since then, the Fukushima nuclear disaster has shaken the nuclear industry and essentially halted the much-ballyhooed nuclear renaissance. Powertech USA has put a Colorado uranium mine on hold because of diminished demand on the uranium industry. Japan and Germany—the world's third and fourth largest economies—are moving away from nuclear power. Germany will phase out all reactors in a decade. The reactors at Fukushima have already been taken off the grid in the most horrendous possible fashion. Switzerland, too, is moving to phase-out, Italy's program looks imperiled and even China has slowed its nuclear program.
In the U.S., there are already fewer new reactors in the queue. Entergy pulled the plug on two of the most likely new reactors at its South Texas complex. Southern Co. is facing budget and schedule problems before it even has a license for its new reactors in Georgia. Unistar has finally been denied the right to build another reactor in Maryland because it's not a U.S. company—and never was!
Areva's stock price has fallen 28 percent since the first of the year, and the company's CEO, Anne Lauvergeon, was fired by the French president. Areva's growing more cautious when spending its dwindling capital than when spending ours (see http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-08/areva-said-to-postpone-investment-to-cut-debt-after-japan-quake.html). It has postponed indefinitely further construction of a nuclear power reactor component manufacturing facility in Newport News, Va., "until market conditions become more favorable." Construction of its uranium enrichment factory outside Idaho Falls has been delayed a year, though the company insists it's just a question of winter weather.
The week before the Fukushima catastrophe, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reaffirmed its intention to have an "evidentiary hearing on environmental/NEPA-related matters" in Idaho this summer. The scope has been expanded for meetings in Idaho Falls from July 11-12: "Among the issues to be heard are the impact of the Fukushima Daiichi accident on the need for enrichment services; AES's plans for remediation of any NRC-authorized preconstruction activities; and greenhouse gas impacts of the facility's operation and power consumption."
The meeting on Tuesday, July 12, begins at 9:30 a.m. at the Red Lion Convention Center in Idaho Falls. Our chance to speak will come on Monday, July 11, from 7-9 p.m. at the Bennion Student Union Building, 1784 Science Center Drive in Idaho Falls. The Snake River Alliance would be happy to see Wood River Valley residents there.
Beatrice Brailsford, a Pocatello resident, is the Snake River Alliance's nuclear program director.