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Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(August 22, 2003) Louisiana Energy Services (LES), the uranium enrichment consortium led by Urenco, appears to have bowed to intense public opposition to its plans to build a new plant in Tennessee and now is taking aim at eastern New Mexico.

(591.5534) NIRS - In recent weeks, LES has been examining the area around Eunice, New Mexico, near the Texas border as a possible site for a uranium enrichment plant. The company already has sent a delegation of officials from Eunice and Lea County to the Netherlands to visit Urenco's plant in Almelo-something LES did when it was first courting Trousdale County, Tennessee officials.

Most of the Tennessee officials initially supported the LES project, but backed off when LES made contradictory and wrong statements about radioactive releases from the proposed plant and about radioactive waste storage. Trousdale County eventually established a demand that no more than 90 days worth of radioactive waste could be stored on the site at any one time-a demand LES cannot meet, since there is no facility that will accept its high volume of long-lived radioactive and toxic waste (see also WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 586.5511: "LES stumbling in Tennessee").

While LES has not officially abandoned the Tennessee site, near Hartsville, it has said that project is "on hold" while it examines the New Mexico site. One problem with the New Mexico site is a lack of water. There are no rivers or lakes nearby, and the region gets its water primarily from the Oglalla aquifer. Taking from and discharging water to the aquifer would bring up serious water quality concerns, since long-lived uranium isotopes would be discharged by the plant.

So far, local New Mexico authorities have responded positively to LES' interest. The site is a stone's throw from Waste Control Specialists' radioactive/hazardous waste dump in Andrews County, Texas (see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 589.5525: "U.S.: Texas gives go-ahead for two waste dumps") and is not far from the WIPP waste dump near Carlsbad, New Mexico.

For its part, LES appears to have learned at least one lesson from its Tennessee experience. LES president Jim Ferland told the Hobbs (NM) News-Sun that "We, LES and the LES management, were not open and honest with the people in Tennessee. We did not always answer their questions in an open fashion. And I would say that sometimes we gave them incorrect information….Louisiana Energy Services has lost its credibility in Tennessee, and for good reason."

New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, has encouraged LES to locate in New Mexico, but the position of the state's governor, former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, is not yet known. Meanwhile, Tennessee residents have not yet broken out the champagne, but LES' current woes are testament to the dedicated work of local groups Citizens for Smart Choices and the Tennessee Environmental Council, both of which remained steadfast in their determination to keep LES out of their state.

Source and contact: NIRS at