Uranium stakes require more resposibility

By Chelle Delaney: QCS Staff

The city of Tucumcari recently announced that uranium levels in Tucumcari’s water supply exceeded the federal guidelines.

Some people joked that we might start glowing. On the other hand, it also looked like bottled water on shelves at the local grocery was getting sparse for a while, too.

Tests  indicated the city’s water had passed the maximum contaminant level of 30 micrograms per liter as outlined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

On a larger scale and in the big picture, it’s widely known that Iraq is enriching uranium and the United States and United Nations want them to stop.

But did you know that on June 23, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a license for the building of a uranium enrichment plant in Eunice?

And that on Aug. 30, The Associated Press and other media reported on the ceremonial groundbreaking for the $1.5 billion plant attended by 800 people.
Present were Gov. Bill Richardson,  formerly U.S. energy secretary, and U.S. Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingamman and Rep. Steve Pearce.

It’s expected that in late 2008 the plant’s first production facilities will be completed and that shortly thereafter the plant will be ready to sell enriched uranium in the United States (replacing imported fuel rods) and abroad.

The plant in Lea County will be the second uranium enrichment plant in the United States. Its centrifuge technology will be much more advanced than the gaseous diffusion used in the first U.S. enrichment plant — and more advanced than the technology Iraq is using. It’s being called part of “America’s nuclear renaissance” and its enriched uranium is not weapons grade such as that being produced in Iran.

The New Mexico plant’s licensee is a European consortium, Urenco, with a U.S. subsidiary, Louisiana Energy Services or LES. The state of New Mexico had opposed the project but withdrew its opposition after Urenco “set limits on how much waste could be stored at the site.”

Still on the subject of uranium, the Southwest Research and Information Center, SRIC, in Albuqerque, is at work on a project that will result, they say, in a revision of the state’s current groundwater protection standard for uranium of 5.0 micrograms per liter – downward.

SRIC says Canada is recommending that provincial governments limit uranium levels to 0.01 micrograms per liter in public water supplies. And says that the EPA  is expected to issue a final uranium limit of 0.03 mmicrogram per liter for public water supplies regulated under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

But there’s more. At www.stockinterview.com it’s being argued that the coal mines on New Mexico’s Navajo lands are an environmental disaster and that mining uranium would be more profitable and less destructive.

Especially since the price of uranium is expected to climb. A number of mining companies are hoping that mining uranium in New Mexico will stage a comeback. And buying uranium claims is like buying stock.

Why is uranium likely to boom? Because enriched uranium is used to fuel nuclear reactors to generate electricity and the current 440 reactors worldwide  (103 of them in the United States) will be joined, within the
next 10 years, by an expected 69 new reactors (27 of them in the United States — that’s according to the Nuclear Energy Commission).

In  1970 the price of uranium was $8 a pound. In early 2003, uranium was $10.75 a pound. In mid-2006, it was $45 a pound.

So, it’s pretty likely that New Mexico’s uranium enrichment plant (and others) will use uranium from New Mexico — perhaps, giving Grants, in Cibola Countiy, an opportunity — with greater responsiblities — to again be known as “The Uranium Capital of the World.”

Chelle Delaney is the associate publisher of the Quay County Sun. Contact her at 461-1952, or by e-mail: