MARCH 13, 2003
Environmental Groups Seek Release of Secret
NRC Document on Uranium Plant Licensing Policy;
Document Will Show How Agency Intends to Handle
Public Hearings for Proposed Uranium Enrichment Plant in Tennessee
- March 13 - Two national advocacy groups are seeking the release
of a document being withheld by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
(NRC) that will indicate how the agency will handle the licensing
and public hearings for a uranium enrichment plant in central
contains the commissioners’ response to six "white papers" submitted
last spring by Louisiana Energy Services (LES), a private consortium
that wants to build the plant. The "white papers" are memos focusing
on licensing issues that may be contentious, such as whether the
consortium is targeting an economically depressed area and whether
the plant is needed. The papers are an attempt to persuade the
commissioners to decide how they will handle critical licensing
issues before LES submits a license application. Public hearings
on similar issues resulted in the denial of a license for a proposed
LES plant in Homer, La., in 1997.
Both the Nuclear
Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and Public Citizen have
submitted comments on the "white papers." At the urging of NIRS,
the NRC invited the public to respond to the memos. The agency
has received more than 350 comments, almost all urging the NRC
to reject the consortium’s position.
have outlined their views on the issues and have informed the
agency’s staff, according to the trade publication Inside NRC
(March 10, 2003), but they have yet to make their views public.
On March 11,
Public Citizen sent a letter to NRC Chairman Richard Meserve,
asking that the document be released and that the NRC explain
what procedure it would use to license the proposed LES plant.
On March 12, NIRS submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
request for the document.
deserves to know if the NRC commissioners have capitulated to
the consortium’s unreasonable demands that the agency pre-determine
controversial licensing issues, which would make a mockery of
the public hearing process," said Wenonah Hauter, director of
Public Citizen’ s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program.
the NRC to rule in its favor before a public hearing on exactly
those issues that resulted in the company’s license being denied
in Louisiana, including critical issues of environmental justice,
disposal of radioactive waste, and whether the plant is even needed—which
it’s not," said Michael Mariotte, executive director of NIRS.
"We intend to sue the NRC if it adopts LES’ positions, so the
agency might as well tell us now if it intends to act on behalf
of this company or on behalf of the public."
groups hope that the NRC’s reluctance to release the document
may indicate that the agency has decided to rule against LES.
"LES has been
looking for a positive signal from the NRC," Mariotte said. "But
the NRC so far isn’t providing that signal. This may be just another
blow to the LES project, which is already staggering from its
inability to obtain a zoning change in Tennessee and the March
10 withdrawal of the Canadian company Cameco, which held a 20
percent interest in the project, from the LES consortium."
LES is dominated
by the European uranium enrichment firm Urenco, which itself is
a consortium composed of British Nuclear Fuels Ltd., the Dutch
government and various German firms. Other LES partners include
Westinghouse (itself a division of BNFL) and three U.S. nuclear
utilities: Exelon, Entergy and Duke Power.
plans in 1989 to build a uranium enrichment plant near Homer.
But a local citizens group, Citizens Against Nuclear Trash, aided
by NIRS, Earthjustice and others, successfully challenged the
consortium’s license application, resulting in the first-ever
denial of a license by the NRC.
For more information
on LES and its proposed plant at Hartsville, Tennessee, visit
the NIRS Web site, http://www.nirs.org/.
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