Thursday, January 7, 2010

Facts ~ What Me Worry?

An Eastern Idaho State Legislator and a Pocatello TV station create a tempest in a teapot

teapot-tempestThe Idaho State Legislature is back in session this week and headline seeking in Boise is already taking its toll. Not that KPVI (NBC) in Pocatello is blameless. Its reporter seems to have been out of the room when the part about getting all the facts was taught in college.

15 seconds of fame summary

Pocatello, ID, KPVI-TV quotes Idaho State Rep. Tom Loertscher (R-Iona) saying that Areva will ditch the Eagle Rock Enrichment Plant. Wrong, and worse, Loertscher makes his claim after a drive by of empty high desert pasture 18 miles west of Idaho Falls, ID, not realizing that Areva can't break ground until it gets the NRC license in mid-2011. Tempest in a teapot and media frenzy result. Do you know where your state legislator is tonight?

And now for the rest of the story

It all started this morning (Jan 7) when State Rep. Tom Loertscher (R-Iona) told Aaron Kunz, a KPVI TV reporter, that he thinks Areva will pull out of its plans to build a $2 billion uranium enrichment plant 18 miles west of Idaho Falls.

What got the TV station excited was a brief comment Loertscher made on a radio talk show. He said that after driving past the planned site for the plant, which right now is just high desert pasture, and not seeing any construction activity, he assumed the worst. He expounded on these remarks to the Pocatello TV station. The entirely predictable uproar has everyone wondering what’s going on.

The lead story on KPVI News 6’s web site today highlights Rep Tom Loertscher’s comments about AREVA revising or possibly canceling the Eagle Rock Enrichment facility.

In the story Rep. Loertscher stated, “Everyone should be calling AREVA and ask them if they are on schedule with the 2014 building date.” He went on to say “that it's disturbing to him that no significant changes have been taking place at the place the company plans on building.”

After a day of frantic phone calls, KPVI updated its story with comments from Bob Poyser, Areva’s VP for Operations here in Idaho Falls.

Poyser said, "It's very risky to speculate on the company's future based on driving past the location."

Areva says it's still here and here to stay

Areva and local economic development officials say the problem with Loertscher’s “if-then” logic is that reality is entirely different. Areva can’t break ground for the Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility until its get a license from the NRC. The draft EIS is due in March 2010. According to the schedule published by the NRC, the license is due to be issued in mid-2011.

PST LogoLane Allgood, Executive Director of the Partnership for Science & Technology (PST), a pro-nuclear business group, issued a statement today after talking with Poyser. He, of course, has been busy talking to everyone today trying to fix the media mess.

Allgood told this blog there is very little work that AREVA can actually do on the site before the NRC issues the license. He added that the Partnership for Science and Technology has tracked the status of the license application on a weekly basis and, “it certainly appears to us that the process is on schedule.”

Allgood also issued a set of talking points based on his conversation with Poyser. (below)

AREVA officials comment to PST on status of Eagle Rock project

  • The development of the Eagle Rock Enrichment facility is going forward as planned. We are moving as fast as we can with the project. There has been no change to the project due to financial or any other factor.
  • According to the current schedule, construction of the facility would begin in 2011 with initial operations in 2014. Although work to expand the facility is expected to continue through 2017.
  • There may be no physical work under way at the site today, but rest assured that we at AREVA are working hard to move the Eagle Rock project forward and get shovels in the ground.
  • The Eagle Rock facility will create thousands of direct and indirect jobs for Idaho. its economic impact on the region’s economy is estimated at more than $5 billion.

Impacts of the non-story are far-reaching

Other state legislators will assume that Rep. Loertscher, from eastern Idaho, knows what he’s talking about. Since the state legislature provided tax incentives for Areva to come here, news that they might not finish the job would not go down well under the capitol dome.

Second, the story will get picked up by wire services handing anti-nuclear groups in Boise an additional opportunity to attack the project. Additionally, it could cast a shadow all the way back Washington, DC, and Paris, France, adding an international dimension to the fracas.

Questions about intent?

KPVI seems to have missed the principle of getting all the facts in a story. Why didn’t the reporter call Areva and ask them for a comment?

Why didn’t Loertscher call Areva first before popping off to the news media?

Maybe it is because any media attention, even negative, is better than none at all?

Headline hunting is a contact sport in politics. Rep. Loertscher has made contact. Here's the KPVI video of the interview.


3 comments:

Rod Adams said...

Dan:

Great post. This is a good indication that blogging and journalism are not mutually exclusive. It looks to me like you were actually there in class the day that the teachers emphasized the importance of getting the facts right.

It is a bit discouraging to realize that some people do not understand that environmental impact statements need to be completed and reviewed before changing the site and that NRC rules prevent much site disturbance before license issue for a reason. The process is designed to prevent the kind of abandoned construction that was all too common during the first Nuclear Age. There is a way to do some site work by getting a Limited Work Authorization (LWA) but there is not any sense in starting that too early.

Joseph Somsel said...

But doesn't Areva REQUIRE a federal loan guarantee before construction also?

Or are they prepared to build it on a free market basis, like LES?

If the former, since Areva is majority-owned by the French government, why should the US taxpayer insure any losses from the project while the French government reaps the profits, if any?

For power reactors, it looks like no guarantees will be issued until the NRC issues a license. Is that the same for the enrichment guarantees?

I'd definitely prefer adequate domestic enrichment but have my doubts about the necessity of the taxpayer backing in this case.

Anonymous said...

Please, all they had to do is check out the documents AREVA submitted to the NRC. They are on schedule. They have asked for pre-construction work approval to build fire water tanks, construction fuel tanks, construction trailers and such. The Areva estimated that NRC would approve this January 1, 2010. They have not posted that they have approved that yet. However, no work would likely be done until March anyway because of the weather. I see trucks out there every once in awhile doing things for their environmental studies and such.