Originally created 04/24/98

Company scuttles plan for uranium enrichment plant



NEW ORLEANS -- An energy consortium accused of picking an area populated by poor blacks for a uranium enrichment plant has given up plans to build the facility.

Louisiana Energy Services said the $855 million plant, which would have been located on 442 acres in Claiborne Parish, would have provided jobs for the largely minority population.

But opponents said it was an example of "environmental racism" -- the location of potentially dangerous plants in areas with large numbers of minority and impoverished residents.

Opponents said there was no economic need for the plant, which would have enriched uranium for fuel rods used in nuclear-generating facilities. They said most of the best-paying jobs would have gone outside the northwestern Louisiana community.

In a letter to federal regulators, the consortium said it was abandoning its plans. The company said it had spent $34 million pursing a license, and president Roland Jensen said the partners had decided that was enough.

"We had been chasing this since 1991. Here it is 1998," he said. "It should have been a simple, straightforward process, but there's no end in sight."

Attorney Nathalie Walker, who represents Citizens Against Environmental Trash, a group of Claiborne Parish residents opposed to the project, called the decision "fabulous news."

"I cannot say I'm shocked, however, because for the last eight years, at every step of the way, I have been baffled by how the NRC thought, under the law, they could license this facility," Walker said.

In December, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled that the consortium had to have firm commitments for financing before the project could be licensed. Opponents had contended that it did not have the money to build the plant.

But the issue of environmental racism was at the center of most of the fight.

Earlier this month, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered a close look at the effects of rerouting a road around the plant and whether the plant would hurt property values.

The NRC's order was based on a 1994 directive from President Clinton that federal agencies must protect minorities from disproportionate exposure to pollution.

Walker said it was the first time a federal agency had ruled that the environmental impact of such a facility on minority and poor citizens in the area demands close scrutiny.

The major partners in the consortium were Urenco Investments Ltd., based in Great Britain; Duke Power Co.; and the Flour Corp., a California-based engineering and construction company, Jensen said.