Crisis in Japan could affect Northwest nuclear project

Mar 16, 2011

The nuclear crisis in Japan could have repercussions for a proposed nuclear enrichment plant in Idaho. A Congressional subcommittee will hear testimony on nuclear safety, just as other countries re-examine their policies on nuclear power.

The Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility would provide nuclear power plants their fuel – that is, refined uranium. French company Areva received a $2 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy last year for the project, and it's expecting approval of the license this spring.

But critics of nuclear power are now calling on the federal government to scale-back its support of such projects in light of the crisis at Japan's nuclear reactors.

Liz Woodruff is the director of the Snake River Alliance, in Boise, which opposes the Eagle Rock facility:

"The events in Japan really call into question whether the supposed nuclear renaissance will come to fruition. And if it doesn't, then there's no need for enriched uranium for the Areva facility."

But Areva spokesman Jarret Adams says the facility in Idaho Falls was planned to serve the already existing nuclear power market:

"And there is still that market for enriched uranium, and definitely a place for Eagle Rock."

Since the reactor crisis in Japan, Germany has shut down its seven oldest nuclear power plants, and Switzerland suspended approval of three new ones.

Idaho State University nuclear professor Jay Kunze says if these shifts in the worldwide market turn out to be permanent, uranium enrichment projects like the one in Idaho could be much less profitable.