From Odessa America Online--The Urenco USA uranium enrichment plant in Eunice, N.M., has barely been operating for a month, but it’s already growing.
On June 30, the plant received permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to start a second cascade, which is a series of centrifuges that separate uranium to be used in nuclear power plants. The company hopes to get permission for a third within the next couple weeks, Urenco spokesman Don Johnson said.
Johnson said to expect new cascades to go online regularly for quite a while.
That’s why the plant’s English parent company recently gave to go ahead to build a $1 billion second phase to the plant, which already cost $2 billion. And once that’s complete around 2014, Johnson said there could more on top of that.
In fact, he said the one square mile site could constantly see new construction.
“The whole idea is we will continue to expand as long as our orders and the economy and the marketplace allow that,” Johnson said.
Once the second phase opens, the Urenco plant could supply half the fuel for the country’s nuclear power plants and increase that share further in future years. Johnson said the plant already has orders for “years and years.”
The continued expansion is good news for the 800 construction workers currently on-site, Johnson said.
“We foresee the construction jobs will be with us for quite a while,” he said.
While Urenco currently has 330 employees working in the plant, Johnson said that number wouldn’t change much as the plant expands. That’s because the centrifuge equipment doesn’t need to be touched again for between 20 and 30 years once it starts spinning.
“It doesn’t really need a lot of people to run it,” he said.
With new cascades coming online regularly, and the NRC having to approve each of them, Johnson said they would be dealing with the federal agency often.
“We’re hoping to get the process streamlined,” he said.
NRC will also be involved with the operation of a $93 million plant planned for Lea County, N.M. by International Isotopes Inc. of Idaho Falls, Idaho. Johnson said Urenco has a contract with International Isotopes to sell them uranium enrichment tails, a byproduct of the process.
NRC has a meeting scheduled tonight in Hobbs to discuss the International Isotopes plant, which will employ around 150 people. Officials will explain the plant’s environmental review process and give the public a chance to identify issues that should be considered.
The depleted uranium de-conversion and fluorine extraction plant will extract gases from uranium tailings used in the enrichment process that can be used in products like laptop computers and refrigerants.
NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said the plant would also make the depleted uranium more stable for disposal.
“At least in the short term, they would presumably take much of their material from Urenco,” he said.
Johnson said transportation of depleted uranium between the two sites would involve “extremely low-grade uranium” and be done in heavy-duty durable cylinders.
“The transportation of the feed product and byproduct are very, very carefully handled and monitored,” he said.
With NRC still in the review process, International Isotopes spokesman Jim Drewitz said a firm date for the plant’s opening had yet to be set.
“It’s all on track, it just takes time to do it,” he said.
The two uranium projects were part of the reason Lea County dubbed itself the “EnergyPlex” earlier this year.
“We’re just really excited to be here,” Johnson said. “We’re really excited about the growth of nuclear in this country.”
IF YOU GO
>> What: Nuclear Regulatory Commission Meeting on issues to be considered for environmental impact statement for proposed International Isotopes uranium deconversion plant to be built in Lea County, N.M.
>> When: 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Central time tonight.
>> Where: Lea County Event Center, 5101 Lovington Highway, Hobbs.
>> Call: 404-997-4417.