New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici has successfully wooed the Urenco-led Louisiana Energy Services (LES) consortium to agreeing to build its centrifuge enrichment facility in New Mexico, after apparently “offering” his state as an alternative venue to the doomed plans in Tennessee.

LES has now submitted plans to build the $1.2 billion National Enrichment Facility in Lea County, New Mexico, near the Texas border. This facility is projected to have a capacity of 3 million SWU per year. The consortium has assured New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson that no uranium by-product would be disposed of in the state. LES president James Ferland pledged there will be no disposal or long-term storage “beyond the life of the plant” of uranium by-product cylinders in the state, and that the company would only temporarily store cylinders on-site, and has agreed to a surety bond. Construction could begin within three years, depending on the permit process.

This is the third change in venue for LES, with initial plans for a facility in Louisiana, and consequently Tennessee, being scrapped due to strong opposition.

Local and state officials appear to be more accommodating to the proposal than in the two previously proposed states, with plans to grant the project relief from property and sales taxes, and acquisition of property for LES through a land swap. The site is expected to employ up to 400 people during construction and about 250 during operation.

Senator Domenici said: “I am excited about getting this project, and have pledged to work at all levels to help get through the long permit and regulatory process. Urenco has decades of experience in this industry and in meeting strict health and environmental standards for its operations in Europe. We can expect as much here.” Governor Richardson said: “Between the construction jobs and full-time employment, this project will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in positive economic impact for the state.” Opposition groups question the need for the facility and its disposal plans. LES has been dogged by a variety of allegations dating back to the late 1980s.

In 1998 LES withdrew its permit application to site the proposed Claiborne Enrichment Center next to two poor, predominately black communities near the small town of Homer in northern Louisiana. The consortium was accused of “environmental racism” by Citizens Against Nuclear Trash, who appealed the proposed permit. In May 1997, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board of the NRC denied the licence on environmental justice grounds ¬≠ apparently the first time the NRC denied a permit based on citizen-group objections. Although the NRC later reversed the environmental justice decision, it upheld other environmental impact claims, following which LES withdrew from the project.