US utility foots bill for information

24 March 2014

US utility Energy Northwest will be facing a bill of up to $3 million to process a public information request relating to its 2012 purchase of depleted uranium from the US Department of Energy (DoE).

Columbia Generating Station (Image: Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

Energy Northwest has used its Facebook page to highlight a report penned by Annette Cary for the Tri-City Herald, in which details are laid out of 40 recent requests from a consulting firm, McCullough Research, for public documents. Many of those requests are for information sought for anti-nuclear pressure group Physicians for Social Responsibility. The utility posted the link to the report with the comment: "Their agenda. Our dime(s)."

The request is thought to encompass between 95,000 and 155,000 documents, all of which will need to be reviewed and if necessary redacted to remove personal or proprietary information. Cited in the Tri-City Herald report, Energy Northwest chief financial and risk officer Brent Ridge estimated that the review process would cost around $14 per document. As well as the financial implications, meeting the request will also have resource implications for the utility, which estimates that it could take it two years to complete the work using existing staff.

At the centre of the matter is a May 2012 agreement to transfer 9075 tU DoE-owned high-assay depleted uranium tails to Energy Northwest, with the utility then contracting with USEC for enrichment services to re-enrich it to create 482 tU of low-enriched uranium, some of which Energy Northwest would then sell on to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The deal enabled USEC to continue to operate the Paducah gaseous diffusion enrichment plant for an extra year before it closed in 2013.

Economist Robert McCullough, principal of McCullough Research, was retained by Physicians for Social Responsibility to carry out a business case analysis of the Columbia Generating Station in 2013. In February, the consultancy issued a report questioning Energy Northwest's calculations on the Paducah fuel deal, which an earlier report by McCullough had described as a "politically motivated transaction" to subsidize the enrichment plant.

The Oregon and Washington chapters of PSR's nuclear taskforce has set itself the goal of bringing about the closure of the region's only operating nuclear power plant, Energy Northwest's Columbia Generating Station.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News

Filed under: Contracts, Nuclear fuel, USA