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Energy | Environment

Despite Nuclear Company's Travails, It Says Idaho Plant Remains On Track

BOISE, Idaho — Financial fallout for the world’s biggest builder of nuclear reactors is creating concern and uncertainty in Idaho, where the company’s been planning a $3-billion dollar uranium enrichment plant near Idaho Falls.

AREVA’s CEO, Luc Oursel, told financial analysts Tuesday in Paris his company is selling assets and suspending projects worldwide. The company is being rocked by financial losses from the shakeup in the industry following Japan’s nuclear disaster.

Being put on hold, however, doesn’t mean Areva is canceling the Idaho facility, company officials said.

Construction won’t begin as early as the company planned, but about 300 Areva employees, including engineers and designers, are still on the job in Idaho, said Robert Poyser, the vice-president of regional affairs.

“All of the pre-planning that takes place for a project this size before you go to the field is continuing on,” he said.

View Areva’s Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility in a larger map

The challenge now is finding the capital to fully fund the project and secure the $2 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy, Poyser said. Ultimately, the company needs to raise $1 billion to close the deal, so Areva is looking for a partner or a set of investors.

“The prime suspects would be utilities and capitalists that have money laying around that they want to invest in a good project,” Poyser said.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter of Idaho said he spoke with company managers Tuesday and is confident the project is still on track.

“The enrichment project is going forward. In fact it’s fully funded through 2012,” Otter told reporters from Boise State Public Radio and EarthFix.

In October, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted Areva a license to build and operate the plant. And Poyser says AREVA has approval to bring classified nuclear technologies to the United States.

“The loan guarantee has no expiration date so to speak,” he said. “We have our license in hand and we have the approval for classified information and equipment.”

The Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility will become particularly important to the United States in 2013, when the supply of enriched uranium from Russia dries up, Poyser said.

The United States receives half of its enriched uranium from Russia through its “Megatons-to-Megawatts” program, which converts nuclear materials from weapons into nuclear fuel. That program ends in 2013.

The U.S. demand for enriched uranium to fuel its 104 nuclear power plants is what attracted Areva to this country, Poyser said. And proximity to the Idaho National Laboratory, which specializes in energy research and development made Idaho a prime location for the Eagle Rock Enrichment Facility, he said.

The company estimates the facility would create 4,800 direct and indirect jobs through the life of the project.

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