I got dueling emails this afternoon, one from Boise, the other from Idaho Falls. First, from the Snake River Alliance, came word that there will be an "Au revoir, Areva" rally at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday on the Capitol Annex steps to protest the Idaho Legislature's recent (and much-criticized) tax breaks to French nuclear company Areva. It continued:
Tell the legislature we're not fools ... Idaho is one of five locations Areva, a French government owned nuclear giant, is considering to build a uranium enrichment plant.
As an incentive, the Legislature is providing Areva millions of dollars in tax breaks if they choose Idaho. Their facility would import a uranium concentrate, called "yellow cake," and then separate out the rare uranium-235 to be used in nuclear reactor fuel - leaving TONS of NUCLEAR WASTE in Idaho and taking their PROFITS BACK to FRANCE. Read today's press release, join the Alliance, make a contribution, at www.snakeriveralliance.org.
Minutes later, I got this reply from John McGimpsey of Idaho Falls, who narrowly lost a legislative race there in 2006 and who is running again this year. McGimpsey, a Democrat, had this to say:
This MUST be an April Fools joke! The proposed enrichment plant has nothing, NOTHING, to do with yellowcake. The material entering, and leaving, Idaho would be UF6 (uranium hexafluoride) gas. The "waste" (which is uranium hexafluoride gas depleted of U-235) will be shipped to the DOE facility in Ohio for separation. If the SRA is saying that yellowcake would be imported into Idaho, they're either being willfully ignorant or lying - there's been more than enough testimony, that the SRA's executive director has attended, that presented accurate information.
The U.S. imports 80 percent of the enriched uranium it uses in existing plants. The majority comes from Russia - the contracts for which expire within 5 years. Regardless of one's views on building additional nuclear plants, I don't know anyone who seriously believes that we can replace the 20 percent of existing US electrical power supplied by nukes in that time frame. Therefore we will need a supply of enriched uranium for fuel, or else be subject to huge supply risks which present significant security, economic, and social justice risks!
While Areva is a French company, they've been operating in the U.S. for 50 years, and have thousands of U.S. employees. The proposed plant would provide 250 high-paying jobs, plus several years of good-paying union construction jobs.
While I don't like tax exemptions, the fact is that there will be NO break if the plant doesn't locate here, and even with the cap, the plant will REDUCE property taxes for families. And there is, in my mind, NO
justification for requiring this plant to pay $20M+ in property taxes to the county when it requires few services. That would constitute more than 1/3 of Bonneville County's budget. ... With the exemption, the plant would STILL be paying 10% of the county budget, still subsidizing local taxpayers.
Sorry, in my opinion, the SRA's not being progressive on this issue - they're just using scary language to try to generate an emotional response.
So now I'm interested to know what others think. My long-held view is that although I believe Idaho needs to focus on clean, renewable energy - and definitely turn down merchant nuclear plants like that proposed for Bruneau - the nuclear industry remains an important part of the state economy, especially in Eastern Idaho, and it may still have a small role to play in helping us kick our fossil fuels addiction. But I am no expert, so I would like to hear from people (like both the Snake River Alliance and John McGimpsey) who know more than I do, and who have suggestions on how to boost Idaho's chronically low-wage economy while protecting our precious environment. At this point, with Areva apparently within days of announcing its decision, conflicting messages are the order of the day.