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NRC presents Safety Evaluation of GE-Hitachi uranium enrichment plant

GE-Hitachi is working toward building a facility that would enrich uranium for utility companies to use as fuel in their nuclear power plants.

But before GE can build the plant – or even decide to build the plant – the company must secure a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.   As WHQR’s Rachel Lewis Hilburn reports, the NRC presented the latest Environmental Impact Statement and the Safety Evaluation Report last night at UNCW. 

The big questions about a facility that will enrich uranium revolve around safety.  Will the community be somehow tainted by radiation?  What exactly is the effluent that enters the air and waterways?  What if southeastern North Carolina sees a natural disaster on the scale of the earthquake and tsunami that caused Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant to fail?  Roger Hannah, NRC spokesman, says, after Fukushima, regulators formed a high-level task force, implemented changes – and he says there are more changes to come.  But he admits…

“There’s no 100% guarantee that an accident may not occur at a nuclear facility.  And the next step after that is to ensure that they have measures in place to deal with that.” 

NRC staffers say that based on extensive reviews of issues such as the potential for natural disasters, security breaches, environmental concerns, the likelihood of negative impacts on the surrounding area is low.  The NRC is mandated by Congress, says Hannah, to protect public health and safety – including the environment. 

“Our only job is nuclear safety.  Our job is not to get a facility built, to shut down a facility, to do anything regarding the business decisions.  Our job is only to ensure that if a facility is licensed and then constructed and operated, that facility is doing all those things safely.”

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.