Haunted by the goblins of the cold war, a Boise-based group is obsessed with a uranium enrichment plant
A relic with knee-jerk, anti-nuclear reflexes from the cold war has energized itself to oppose Areva's planned $2.4 billion "Eagle Rock" uranium enrichment plant in Idaho. The Boise-based Snake River Alliance (SRA) has a war chest of $300,000 from the Bullit and the Edwards Mother Earth foundations and Patagonia outdoor clothing. With a staff of five and a claim of 1,000 members, it is planning to mount a major campaign to drive Areva out of Idaho.
The French nuclear energy firm announced plans in May 2008 to build a $2.4 billion uranium enrichment plant in eastern Idaho 18 miles west of Idaho Falls, ID. Areva chose the site after a yearlong nationwide search, with intense competition among five finalist sites, and only after the Idaho legislature offered tax incentives to sweeten the winning deal. Idaho Falls is one of the nation’s most pro-nuclear cities with a sustained track record of standing up for Areva’s project.
Tilting at windmills or trophy homes?
Andrea Shipley, the 26-year old director of the SRA told the Idaho Statesman this week the Areva plant, "is the biggest threat to Idaho in 30 years." With that tag line in hand, SRA says their stated goal is to “drive Areva out of Idaho.”
She is taking this message, as a fund-raising slogan, to the trophy homes of the super rich who are seasonal residents in Sun Valley, just two hours drive west of the Areva plant. Once they are told that “radioactive releases” from the plant could threaten their mountainside playground, checkbooks fly open. It isn’t the first time nor the last that the SRA will engage in exaggerated rhetoric to raise funds and win over supporters.
The SRA describes itself as a "watchdog," but as Idaho’s self-appointed nuclear watchdog, the Snake River Alliance (SRA), has also demonstrated that having one around sometimes results in a lot of barking at the wrong things.
At an NRC environmental scoping hearing held in Idaho Falls last June, the Snake River Alliance (SRA) made the 300-mile trek to speak out against Areva's license application. Like its campaigns against U.S. Navy nuclear spent fuel reprocessing programs at the Idaho National Laboratory during the Cold War, the SRA was not averse to telling farmers in nearby Twin Falls, ID that the nuclear energy project in Idaho will French fry the state's famous potatoes right on the vine.
Watchdog barks but at what and why?
Two of SRA’s assertions are that there is no “need” for the enrichment facility relative to market demand and that the depleted uranium from the gas centrifuge process would be a threat to Idaho for decades if not centuries. Areva has pointed out the demand for enriched uranium by 2014, which is when the plant will come online, will exceed the total U.S. capacity. Areva has also repeatedly stated no waste will be left onsite. It will ship the depleted uranium to a licensed landfill for disposal.
Meanwhile, in Idaho Falls, at International Isotopes(OTC:INIS), entrepreneur Steve Laflin is working on raising investor support for a $55 million plant to be located in Hobbs, NM, to recover high quality fluorine from depleted UF6 and sell it to industrial customers. The SRA did not respond to comments at the hearing about their mis-statements of fact, which they continue to assert on their website.
The SRA also claims on its website that Areva's commercial uranium enrichment plant will be making weapons-grade uranium for use in nuclear weapons. This false claim could kick up some dust on the diplomatic scene, possibly creating an international incident, since it alleges that a foreign nuclear power is planning to make its weapons components on American soil. This is the type of incendiary rhetoric that has gotten the group into hot water in the past.
Slap shot, slap suit
Last year Shipley called Alternative Energy Holdings Inc. (OTC:AEHI) a "scam." The penny-stock firm has had little success in its efforts to organize a nuclear reactor project in Idaho. Also, it has repeatedly failed the now world-famous “baloney test” first developed by this blog in 2007. However, there are no reports of any financial wrongdoing by the company which last year registered its stock with the SEC.
Unlike most nuclear energy companies, which take over-the-top, anti-nuclear rhetoric in stride, thin-skinned AEHI CEO Don Gillispie threatened to sue the SRA for libel. SRA then exploited the situation it had created by charging AEHI with trying to shut it up with a “slap suit.” But both parties backed down after a cooling-off period.
And there is organized opposition to the SRA. Lane Allgood, executive director of an Idaho Falls-based pro-nuclear business group, Partnership for Science & Technology(PST) told me, "we will challenge them [SRA] if they make statements that are misleading or wrong. With a staff of one and a budget one-fourth the size of SRA's, Allgood may have his work cut out for him.
Even the news media doesn't seem to be much help. In a long retrospective piece on the SRA's three-decade history published last Sunday, the Idaho Statesman inexplicably mis-labeled Areva's facility as a "nuclear reprocessing plant."
NRC licensing process underway
Areva's license application for the Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility is under review at the NRC. The firm has asked the agency to complete its work by early 2011. The NRC told Areva last month, conservatively speaking, the firm should have its license no later than January 2012.
More recently, NRC Commissioner Dale Klein told a meeting of business and civic leaders in Idaho Falls he did not foresee any unusual circumstances that would prevent Areva from getting its license for the enrichment plant and by sometime in 2011.
Areva told community leaders in Idaho Falls this week the firm is focused on the regulatory process at the NRC with no plans to respond at this time to SRA's initiative.
Greenpeace blinks on nuclear energy in the U.K.
For the first time ever an environmental "manifesto" from Greenpeace in the U.K. is devoid of strident anti-nuclear rhetoric. While the Snake River Alliance in the U.S. pursues the cold war anti-nuclear campaign issues of a former generation, Greenpeace, always a militant presence in the European environmental movement, appears to have changed its tune.
The group's omission of its usual negative broadside against nuclear energy may be the result of a change of heart by its former director. Stephen Tindale (left) went public last year with his support for nuclear energy. He promotes his views in the U.K. through a new organization called Climate Answers.
In a paper titled "Change the politics. Save the Climate," Greenpeace laid out 12 goals for reducing carbon emissions and using "renewable energy" technologies. The group wrote that "nothing should be ruled out in terms of applications of "low carbon technologies." It also referred to documents published by the U.K. Committee on Climate Change and the IAEA, which call for significant investments in nuclear power to lower CO2 emissions.
Even if most of the Greenpeace members in the U.K. remain staunchly anti-nuclear, observers in the U.K. told this blog the change "represents cracks in the group's facade." In the U.S. the Snake River Alliance shows little likelihood of such a change, preferring to remain as rooted in its 30-year history as the sagebrush on the Arco desert.
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