2005 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: 23 Feb 2005 16:07:10 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Depleted Uranium Risks
Institute for Energy and Environmental Research
Press Release
February 23, 2005
New Research Indicates Health Risks from Uranium May Be More Varied
Than Reflected in Current Federal Policy

Depleted Uranium from Proposed New Mexico Enrichment Plant May Become
Multi-Billion Dollar Taxpayer Liability without a Hefty Financial Guarantee

Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Corporate Options for DU Disposal Risk
Long-Term Violation of Health and Environmental Standards, New Analysis Indicates

TAKOMA PARK, MD, FEB. 23, 2005 ? A new report about a uranium enrichment
plant proposed to be built in New Mexico concludes that it would cost
between $3 billion and $4 billion to properly manage and dispose of the
depleted uranium (DU) waste that the plant would generate.  Such high
costs could not be recovered from the customers for enrichment services.

The report also discusses recent research on the health effects of DU,
much of it performed at the Armed Forces Radiobiology Institute in
Bethesda, Maryland after the 1991 Gulf War, that has implications far
wider than the New Mexico plant. The research indicates that depleted
uranium may be mutagenic, tumorigenic, teratogenic, cytotoxic, and
neurotoxic, including in a manner analogous to exposure to lead.[1]  It
may also cross the placenta and harm the embryo/fetus. There is also
research that indicates that the chemical and radiological toxicities of
uranium may, in some cases, be acting in a synergistic manner. Federal
regulations limit uranium inhalation based on cancer risk and drinking
water intake based mainly on kidney toxicity.

There are currently some 740,000 tons of depleted uranium in unstable
hexafluoride form stockpiled at Department of Energy sites at Paducah,
Kentucky, Portsmouth, Ohio, and Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  LES, a corporate
consortium led by the European company Urenco, wants to build the plant
in New Mexico. Another company, USEC, seeks to build a similar plant in Ohio.

The report?released today by the Institute for Energy and Environmental
Research (IEER) and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service
(NIRS)?concludes that unless LES provides at least $2.5 billion dollars
in financial guarantees, it is likely that the people of New Mexico,
U.S. taxpayers, and future generations would be stuck with a
multi-billion dollar radioactive waste liability.  The report was filed
with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in late November 2004
by NIRS and the public interest group Public Citizen as part of their
legal intervention in the licensing proceeding of LES.  A redacted
version excluding proprietary LES corporate financial data is being
released to the public today.

?The labeling of depleted uranium as ?low-level? waste by the NRC is not
going to diminish its dangers,? said Dr. Arjun Makhijani, principal
author of the report and president of IEER.  ?To paraphrase Shakespeare,
dangerous radioactive waste by any other name would still pose
significant public health risks.?

The report is entitled Costs and Risks of Management and Disposal of
Depleted Uranium from the National Enrichment Facility Proposed to be
Built in Lea County New Mexico by LES.  It provides data showing that
depleted uranium is radiologically comparable to transuranic waste,
which is waste that is significantly contaminated with plutonium and
other long-lived radionuclides like it.  Federal regulations define
transuranic waste as that which has more than 100 nanocuries per gram of
long-lived transuranic radionuclides that emit alpha radiation.  DU has
a specific activity of about 400 nanocuries per gram.  Transuranic waste
from U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) facilities is now being disposed of
in a deep geologic repository in New Mexico called the Waste Isolation
Pilot Plant, which is a multi-billion dollar federal government project.

?The people of New Mexico and the taxpayers of the United States may
find themselves saddled with enormous liabilities,? said Michael
Mariotte, executive director of NIRS, which sponsored the IEER report. 
?Corporations can easily wiggle out of their obligations.  It happened,
for example, when Getty Oil dumped the wastes from its plutonium
reprocessing plant into the laps of the federal government and the State
of New York over three decades ago.  That multi-billion dollar mess
still hasn?t been fully cleaned up, and the waste has nowhere to go.?

?The health risks of depleted uranium may be far more varied than is
recognized in federal regulations today,? said Dr. Brice Smith, Senior
Scientist at IEER and co-author of the report.  ?Children in the future
may be saddled with a legacy similar to that of the sorry history of
lead poisoning over the past three generations, but this time we are
dealing with a heavy metal that is also radioactive.?

The license application constitutes LES?s fourth attempt to build a
uranium enrichment plant in the United States.  The first attempt, which
was for a plant in Louisiana, cost LES more than $30 million.  LES
withdrew the application after a citizens? group successfully challenged
the NRC?s environmental impact statement for the project on
environmental justice grounds.  Two other locations, both in Tennessee,
were also explored but abandoned in the face of local opposition.  DU
disposal has remained a central public concern throughout.

?The NRC has so far failed to back up its claims that radiation doses
from depleted uranium disposal in an abandoned mine would be within
regulatory limits,? said Dr. Makhijani.  ?Data-free analysis ought to be
unacceptable in any forum, but it is especially so in an environmental
impact statement prepared by a government agency charged with protecting
public health and safety.? 

LES may consider shallow land disposal as option; sites in Utah or in
Texas just across the border from LES site in New Mexico may be
considered.  LES may elect to pay the federal government to take on its
waste.  DOE is building a plant to convert DU hexafluoride to a more
stable oxide form but it has not yet identified a viable long-term
disposal strategy even for its own DU.

?Transfer to the DOE cannot be considered a solution to LES?s waste
problem,? said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen?s Critical
Mass Energy and Environment Program.  ?The DOE has yet to take charge of
a single spent fuel bundle from nuclear power plant operators?despite a
legal commitment to begin in 1998 and billions of dollars in payments to
the federal government by nuclear electricity consumers.?

The report can be downloaded in full by clicking http://www.ieer.org/reports/du/LESrptfeb05.pdf


[1] That is, it may cause or contribute to genetic mutations, tumors,
birth defects, neurological damage, and cellular level toxicity.  


Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918
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