Companies building multi-billion dollar facilities don't do things on whims
Last week there were a flurry of rumors that Areva might be having second thoughts about the construction of its $2.4 billion uranium enrichment plant at a site located 18 miles west of Idaho Falls, ID. This is the Eagle Rock Enrichment Project which when complete in 2014 will have a capacity of 3 million SWU/year.
Here's what I know from several days of digging around.
First, the so-called "postponement" of a hearing by the Atomic safety & Licensing Board is not true. The board has a hearing scheduled for Idaho Falls in July. According to Dave McIntyre, a spokesman for the NRC. the hearing is on tap to take place as scheduled.
Second, assuming Areva gets the NRC license in August or September, it makes no sense to mount a major construction mobilization at the site with Idaho's severe winter weather setting in just a few months later.
Out on the Idaho desert, the morning low in January can be in the minus double digits. It takes just a few inches of snow, and the usual Idaho wind across the Snake River Plain, to turn the landscape into a complete white out. The buses from the Idaho National Laboratory, some 45 miles out on the desert, come back in a conga line with a snow plow at the front and another in the middle to keep the road open for the trip home.
Third, Areva isn't one to throw money around especially since it just paid 1.6 billion euros ($2.3 billion) to Siemens as part of the decision by the two firms to end their joint partnership in Europe. Also, Areva has been raising capital by selling shares to sovereign wealth funds and other large investors.
Finally, for competitive reasons, Areva must break ground as soon as possible in 2012 to avoid losing market share to USEC and Urenco. In New Mexico, Urenco has a similar enrichment plant which is operational and making money. USEC's American Centrifuge plant will be online by 2012/2013. Plus, TENEX, Russia's enrichment firm, is making an investment in USEC seeking entry into the U.S. market.
Total U.S. demand in 2012 will be about 13 million SWU. Areva's share with a completed plant at Eagle Rock will be about 25% of that number. Both Areva and Urenco have filed with the NRC to double their production capacity by 2018.
So if anyone is running rumors up the flag pole about the firm skipping town, you really don't have to pay attention.
PS: "Eagle Rock" is the original name of Idaho Falls which Areva honored when naming its facility.
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