Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pinning Hopes to A Falling Star?

I was pretty jazzed, I’ll have to admit, a few months ago when I submitted a resume to Areva, the French company planning to build a $3 billion uranium enrichment plant near Idaho Falls.

But now I’m glad nothing came of it – the company announced today that while design of the plant will move forward, construction is suspended indefinitely.

Not good news, obviously.

There’s a lot of spin going on. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is saying the situation isn’t that dire and that Areva is still retaining the 300-some engineering and design jobs already in place, fully intending to fund them through 2012. That’s good news.

Still, it remains to be seen what will happen with the plant as time goes on. Dan Yurman over at Idaho Samizdat does a much better job explaining it all than I ever could. Read his post.

Areva itself has a spin on the project that is rosier than even what the state is saying:
EREF is a solid project. We received our construction license from the NRC in October. We currently have approval for a conditional loan guarantee. The U.S. enrichment market is strong and is expected to grow. We have contracts in place for a significant amount of the output from this facility. In summary, we have a sound project, a proven technology, an NRC license, and off-take contracts with investment-rated customers. We are confident that capital solutions will be found in a timely manner.
What do we need to move forward? We need the $2 billion loan guarantee from DOE and solutions to reduce our near-term capital expenditures.
Also is important to note that the Areva plant is oriented towards the American market, and that events in Japan (and, presumably, Germany) aren’t having in impact on Eagle Rock plans. That’s comforting.

The job thing on a micro level isn’t frustrating to me. What’s frustrating is that eastern Idaho needs to build its technological and industrial base to provide more opportunities for the people who want to live here. I spent a frustrating year underemployed, and am facing a few rounds of layoffs next year starting in January. Having Areva here would be a good addition to the local economy, and act as a magnet for other tech- and nuclear-oriented jobs, for which we have tons of local expertise and experience.

I’m hopeful that as the economy brightens, things will look better. But at the same time given Germany’s pending exit from the nuclear power industry and France’s reconsidering of the industry, I don’t know what’s likely to happen. So perhaps pinning our economic hopes on nuclear isn’t the best thing to do after all. Still, Areva’s presence here would add cachet to the area’s small but growing alternative energy sector.

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