Hartsville chosen for LES uranium enrichment plant

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   Officials for Louisiana Energy Services along with Gov. Don Sundquist and representatives from the state Economic Development office announced Monday that Hartsville, Tenn., has been selected as the site for a $1.1 billion uranium enrichment facility.
   The Hartsville site, once chosen as the location for a nuclear plant by Tennessee Valley Authority, was selected after "we did a long-term objective, numerically based analysis and it scored at the top," said Nan Kilkeary, public information officer for LES. Bellefonte [in Alabama] was a close second."
   The announcement was made at 1 p.m. CDT at the Cumberland Club in Nashville.
   "One of the things they announced was we will open a local office in Hartsville very soon to provide local residents with information on the project," she said. According to Kilkeary, "There is nothing in this site to fear and it's $1.1 billion. That's a major thing for an area that's fairly deprived economically. What comes out of this plant is basically stuff that is a cannister that you can lean up against and you get less radiation than a dental X-ray."
   The gas centrifuge technology developed by Urenco Ltd. has been employed at its facilities in Europe but not yet in the United States. Once the product is produced in Hartsville, it will go to various fuel fabrication plants around the country for more processing, Kilkeary said. "They make it into pellets that ultimately go into the rods that go into a reactor. This is only one part of the fuel cycle." The proposed plant is almost a twin of Urenco's Almelo facility in The Netherlands "with the exception that it will be engineered to meet U.S. codes and requirements," she said.
   According to Kilkeary, the plant will provide approximately 400 construction jobs and 250 permanent ones. "It breaks out that about 70 percent are skilled worker jobs which require like an associates degree and some kind of training; 10 percent are unskilled and we will provide training. We are looking at the potential that 80 percent of the jobs would be available regionally."
   George Dials, president and chief executive officer for LES, said that since coming aboard the project in July he has been focused on the site evaluation screening process, trying to drive it to a final decision. "We made our short list determination a couple weeks ago and I thought it was time to get to the final site. I reviewed the final report and asked questions and went through the final criteria and determined that the best site for us from a technical and environmental and business perspective was a site that was formerly a TVA site near Hartsville, Tenn."
   Dials said one of the things LES was looking for was a site that had gone through recent evaluation and had current environmental monitoring data. "That will shorten our licensing application process a little bit. We won't have to go out and do more independent data collection on a lot of the parameters. We'll be able to use what was done by TVA, and they are well-known for doing very good environmental impact statements and EAs [Environmental Assessments], so that helped a bit," he said. Property in Unicoi County did not score well in the final analysis, according to Dials. "I'm speaking from my perspective from the time I came on in July. That area is one where there are nuclear facilities, like the NFS [Nuclear Fuel Services] facility. If you look at the seismic data and the other technical data that apply, it's a good site or good location. But once I started looking at the actual parameters and information about the sites that were available, the land ownership patterns, the ability to do what we needed to do on a site that was large enough, and being able to expand, it really didn't score very well compared to some other sites. It would not have been on my top list of sites even to carry forward." Dials said LES screened close to 50 sites, some of which were eliminated very quickly because they were in a seismic zone or had other problems. "The Hartsville site just scored out better than any of the other sites." Now that the location has been chosen, Dials said LES will talk with TVA about incentives, "like if there are power lines or things that need to be moved from the site, or if there is some sort of agreement we can make on a long-term power supply because we will be buying power from the TVA system. Of course, TVA is a potential customer also, because they need enriched uranium for their facility."
   Once LES gets through the licensing process, which is expected to take 18 months to two years, the name of the consortium probably will change, Dials said. "We're using the name of the partnership because there are some legal, contractual reasons to do so. We're obviously not going to be in Louisiana, and I've been trying to de-emphasize the Louisiana, as you might note. Just call us LES," Dials said. If licensed, the consortium will be going up against U.S. Enrichment Corp. as a competitor to provide uranium enrichment services on the world market. "We're not trying to put them out of business or anything, we're not focused on them. We're focusing on the market. What we're trying to do is ensure that the U.S. nuclear utilities have a competitive supply of domestically based enrichment.
   "If you look at where the enriched uranium is coming from today, a lot of it is coming from Russia. We just think it makes sense for the United States that we have a state-of-the-art source for enriched uranium. We want to compete on a level playing field with USEC. We'll be happy to do so. We don't need any government subsidies, we don't need any government funding to do this. We can do this on a competitive business nature and we think that's in the nation's interest that we have that opportunity," Dials said.