Fluoride Action Network

UF6: Nuclear future accelerating for the Permian Basin in Texas

Source: Midland Reporter-Telegram | Special to the Oil Report
Posted on January 25th, 2009
Industry type: Nuclear Industry

ANDREWS — Andrews County is one of four locations in three states being considered by an Idaho-based company as potential sites for construction of a uranium processing and fluorine extraction plant.

Andrews Economic Development Director Wesley Burnett confirmed that International Isotopes Inc. of Great Falls, Idaho is considering sites in Andrews County, Lea County, New Mexico and two locations in Idaho for construction of a de-conversion facility. In that facility, the company plans to use its patented Fluorine Extraction Process (FEP) technology to produce high-value, specialty fluoride gas products for use in microelectronics manufacturing and other applications.

International Isotopes President and CEO Steve Laflin said, “I think we will select a site no later than March 2009.”

Information from International Isotopes stated that the feedstock for the planned facility is depleted uranium hexafluoride (UF6) which is a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process. The release also noted, “Enrichment is required to convert natural uranium to a form that is useable as reactor fuel. Approximately 90 percent of the UF6 that goes into the enrichment process emerges as depleted UF6.”

Laflin said it will be difficult to specify when the facility could open because the company is “constrained by state and federal regulations,” but he speculated that once a site is chosen the project will have to submit to a 20-month environmental review. He said the submission could take place in October with construction of the facility beginning in 2011.

A couple of key personnel would be chosen shortly after a site is named, he said. About 100 contractors would be involved in construction of the facility which would eventually employ about 50 fulltime employees once operational.

Currently there are four enrichment facilities in the U.S. that are being built or are planned for construction, including the $3 billion National Enrichment Facility now under construction at Eunice, N.M.

But the prospect of the International Isotopes facility for Andrews County is only one of a number of exciting business developments now occurring in the Permian Basin involving nuclear energy and radiation.

Waste Control Specialists LLC (WCS) which operates a radioactive waste disposal facility in Andrews County received final approval January 14 for a license for the near-surface disposal of Class A, B and C low-level radioactive waste at its site. The license allows WCS to operate a Texas Compact (comprised of the states of Texas and Vermont) waste disposal facility and a federal low-level radioactive waste disposal facility.

WCS Chief Executive Officer William J. Lindquist stated, “This final license combined with the recently issued byproduct material disposal license and our existing permits and licenses gives WCS the broadest range of capabilities of any commercial enterprise in the United States for the storage, treatment and permanent disposal of hazardous, toxic, low-level and mixed low-level radioactive waste and radioactive byproduct material.”

WCS President Rodney A. Baltzer said the licensing will require the hiring of about 75 new employees at its Andrews County facility. The company plans to begin taking radioactive waste for disposal in July 2010.

Meanwhile, Summit Energy of Colorado gained a strong boost through a bill introduced in the Texas Senate January 15 by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, that if approved will give up to $100 million in franchise tax credits to the first three Texas projects that qualify.

Summit is considering constructing a $2.8 billion coal gasification plant on land near Penwell that was originally reserved for FutureGen, a federally funded near-zero emissions power plant. However, Mattoon, Ill. was chosen as the site of that proposed facility in December 2007 and no such project has ever materialized.

In other developments, Burnett said a nuclear reactor project being planned by UTPB is “still in a holding pattern.

“Funding continues to be a major concern for that project,” Burnett said.

Odessa Economic Development Director Gary Vest said he, Burnett, UTPB President David Watts and Grant Billingsley of Midland are all continuing to work on a project called NuHEAT which is intended to develop the next generation nuclear reactor. Westinghouse and others are involved in that project, Vest said.

Plans calls for the High-Temperature Teaching and Test Reactor Energy Research Facility to be built near Andrews in a joint venture involving Andrews, Ector and Midland counties. UTPB has received grants for the last three years toward the project

“I think nuclear energy is going to be critical to our future here in the Permian Basin,” Vest said.

Kirk Edwards, president of MacLondon Royalties and one of the community leaders who worked on the widespread effort to bring the proposed FutureGen project to the Permian Basin, said the effort expended on the FutureGen project and others will still bear fruit for the area.

He noted that during the massive effort to attract the FutureGen project, the region showed the nation and the world that the people of this area would welcome a nuclear project if the Obama Administration goes forward with nuclear power.

“We’re just entering a different paradigm,” Edwards said. “I just think we’re a lot further ahead by having communities that are engaged.”

Edwards said the area would benefit tremendously “if we could get a coal sequestration project or advanced nuclear power. We’re just in desperate need of more CO2.” Carbon dioxide is used extensively in the Permian Basin for enhanced oil recovery operations.

He noted that a coal sequestration project or advanced nuclear power project would require the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, and he suggested that a NASA-type commitment would be needed to make such an undertaking successful.

But, Edwards added, “We’ve got to have diversified technologies.”