Saturday, May 24, 2008

Uranium enrichment facility moves closer to reality

by Ruth Campbell
Midland Reporter-Telegram
Published: Friday, May 23, 2008 3:29 AM CDT
-The $1.5 billion Lea County, N.M., facility, located near Andrews' Waste Control Specialists, should start producing in late 2009.

By Ruth Campbell

Staff Writer

Since its groundbreaking in August 2006, Louisiana Energy Services' uranium enrichment facility near Eunice, N.M., has sprung out of the earth and expectations are the $1.5 billion facility will come on line by late 2009.

Dana Starr, communications specialist for the National Enrichment Facility, as it is called, gave a presentation to Midland Rotary Club members Thursday at Midland Center. The plant will produce enriched uranium, which is needed to make fuel pellets that will be sent off to make electricity.

Pellets are shipped in U.S. Department of Transportation approved containers and have GPS tracking systems.

"We have already sold our first 10 years of production of our plant," Starr said.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued LES a license to build and operate the facility June 23, 2006. It is the first one to be licensed in America the last 30 years, she said, noting that progress is being followed closely by the nuclear industry.

The National Enrichment Facility is the first of its kind in the United States, but will be the fourth in the world. The Eunice plant was modeled after one in the Netherlands.

Enrichment services will be available in late 2009, but construction will continue through 2013.

It is owned by Urenco, a consortium of the British, Dutch and German governments.

Currently, the plant has 197 employees working in design, engineering, licensing, operations, maintenance and construction.

"We have successfully attracted 'nuclear' qualified staff across the organization," Starr said. The company said it would hire as many local people as possible, but that has been difficult.

She said National Enrichment Facility expects to be fully staffed by the end of June with 271 employees. There are currently 1,100 construction workers on site, including craft, management and construction workers.

That will decrease to 400. In addition, there are 235 contractors supporting development of programs, procedures and construction including the security force.

NEF has an annual payroll of $14 million and its subsidiary, ET U.S., or Enrichment Technology U.S., has a payroll of $4.5 million. With 65 employees locally, ET U.S. assembles centrifuges used in the plant.

Salaries for major contractors and subcontractors are $13.3 million a month, Starr said.

Overall, LES has paid $7.7 million in New Mexico state taxes from January through April of this year and made $300,000 in charitable donations to organizations in New Mexico and Texas.

The facility came about through the efforts of longtime U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico, who "fought tooth and nail" to bring it to Eunice. Several factors also made the site attractive to LES including the geology with its red-bed clay, community support and tax abatements.

The plant is licensed for 30 years and waste will be stored on site. The company has a memorandum of understanding with Areva, a fuel cycle company that provides services to various U.S. utilities, to remove the uranium hexafluoride -- the active ingredient in the waste -- so the uranium can be put back in the ground, Starr said.

Ruth Campbell can be reached at

No comments: