Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ain't Dead Yet

Don’t count Areva’s proposed Eagle Rock uranium enrichment plant dead in the desert yet.

Though the French company has stopped building schedules for the plant, first proposed in the late Naughts with construction originally scheduled to begin in 2011, the plug has not been pulled. Note this statement from Idaho Department of Commerce director Jeff Sayer to local media on Feb. 21.

Now Japan is making rumblings that its shutdown of nuclear reactors since the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant accident in 2011 won’t go on much longer.

Here’s the rub:

Shutting down the nation’s nuclear plants resulted in increased imports of oil and natural gas to Japan, helping to lead to a $204 billion trade deficit between March 2011 and the end of 2013, per TIME magazine. The cost to generate electricity in the nation shot up a staggering 50 percent, and the increased reliance on fossil fuels pumped 100 million metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

If Japan seriously does re-start its plants, Areva’s Eagle Rock could indeed see a groundbreaking.
To those who still fear the nuclear bogeyman, consider this, from TIME:

But the long-term health impacts of the meltdown and subsequent radiation release seem limited. In a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, a team of Japanese researchers found that the mean annual radiation dose from the Fukushima event after 2011 was comparable to the background radiation that the average Japanese citizen might experience over the course of a year, and any increases in cancer rates from the meltdown may be so small at to be undetectable. That conclusion fits with earlier studies that suggest steps taken by the Japanese government to limit radiation exposure—including evacuations and food restrictions—from Fukushima seem to have been successful.

That Areva has not leaped into building this plant, to me, is a testament that the company follows good business practices and when it invests, it’ll invest for the long-term. We saw Pocatello’s flirtation with solar power in Hoku Materials’ polysilicon plant fade rather quickly, as the company and its investors jumped into building the plant without looking far enough into the future to see the collapse in the solar panel-making market. The plant was built and shuttered before it opened. It now sits idle and in possession of its prime building contractor, who bought it at a bankruptcy auction. Of course, uranium enrichment is far different than polysilicon; it’s hard to see an enrichment plant repurposed. But still, Areva’s wait and see attitude is good for the long term, and I applaud it.

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