Will New Mexico Lead The Way In Nuclear Energy?

HOBBS, N.M. March 2, 2011 – Nuclear energy and small-scale reactors will take center stage at the 2011 national energy conference in Hobbs. “The Uranium Fuel Cycle” conference on Wednesday and Thursday, April 27 and 28, will focus on potential developments and implementation of small-scale reactors.

Sandia Senior Fellow Wendell Weart examines a chunk of salt at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad. Photo by Randy Montoya
New Mexico Tech Vice President Dr. Van Romero (left) with Adam Savage, star of the show Mythbusters. Romero will speak at the Uranium Fuel Cycle Conference and attempt to dispel some myths about nuclear energy. Photo by Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech
An aerial view of the URENCO USA facility in Lea County, N.M.
An artists rendering of an mPower small-scale nuclear reactor developed by Babcock & Wilcox.

The conference features top leaders in nuclear technology, including Babcock & Wilcox, New Mexico Tech, URENCO USA, Washington TRU Solutions, Uranium Resources Inc., Energy Solutions and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The “uranium fuel cycle” begins with mining, continues with enrichment, followed by use in a reactor, and ends with processing and storage. Hobbs is in the center of the developing Eastern New Mexico Energy Corridor, which is involved in all aspects of the nuclear energy fuel cycle.

Dr. Van Romero, Vice President of Research at New Mexico Tech, said New Mexico is well-positioned to be a leading voice in nuclear energy development.

“Almost the entire cycle is contained in New Mexico,” he said, “from mining to waste storage. This conference is an important step in bringing together key players in the area and continuing a dialog about energy and our national policies.”

A new enrichment facility is now operational near Eunice, N.M. A de-conversion plant is in the licensing stage in Lea County. Also located in the region are Waste Control Specialist LLC and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, near Carlsbad, which is a long-term storage facility funded by the Department of Energy. While not currently being mined, vast deposits of raw uranium ore exist in west-central New Mexico.

What’s missing? The small-scale nuclear power plants.

“Communities in southeast New Mexico have expressed an interest in nuclear power,” Romero said.

One area the conference will focus on is the commercial deployment of small nuclear reactors in eastern New Mexico. Representatives of Babcock & Wilcox will present their strategy to deploy a light-water reactor system to provide energy to communities in New Mexico.

Babcock & Wilcox is the leading international company in development and deployment of small-scale nuclear reactors. The company unveiled the B&W mPower™ reactor in 2009. The mPower reactor, with its scalable, modular design, has the capacity to provide 125 megawatts to 750 megawatts of electricity for a five-year operating cycle without refueling. The reactor is designed to produce clean, near-zero emission operations, according to the company website.

Babcock & Wilcox Canada has designed and manufactured nuclear power equipment for more than 40 years, providing nuclear heat exchangers, nuclear plant services and more than 200 nuclear steam generators to customers around the world.

Following the Babcock & Wilcox presentation, Romero will lead a discussion on “Small Reactor Research and Readiness.” Then, a representative from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy will talk on the status and outlook for nuclear energy development.

“Large nuclear reactors generate about a gigawatt of power,” Romero said. “These smaller reactors are safe and easy to operate and do not need a tremendous amount of infrastructure. Canada has been operating these small reactors for years.”

The two-day conference is hosted by the New Mexico Center for Energy Policy, a division of New Mexico Tech, the Economic Development Corp. of Lea County and New Mexico Junior College.

The “Uranium Fuel Cycle” conference will begin with a panel on “Uranium Mining Today: Geology and New Technology,” led by Dr. Peter Scholle of New Mexico Tech. Scholle is the State Geologist and the director of the N.M. Bureau of Geology. The conference will present improved methods for the mining of uranium. New technology that eliminates labor-intensive, high-risk activity prevalent in previous operations will be presented. Also, Uranium Resources Inc., a mining-company based in Texas, will present information about the latest technological developments in uranium mining. The company has several mines in Texas and has holdings in New Mexico that include 183,000 acres and 100 million pounds of in-place mineralized uranium holdings, according to the company’s website.

Also on the schedule for the conference is a panel discussion on uranium processing, featuring top executives from Urenco USA (uranium enrichment), International Isotopes (uranium tailing recovery), Waste Control Specialist LLC and WIPP (waste/storage).

The final panel, “Training and Education for the Future of Nuclear Energy,” will be led by Dr. Robert Rhodes, Vice President of New Mexico Junior College, with a presentation by Energy Solutions.

Online registration will open Monday, March 7, at www.energyplexnm.com or by calling (575) 397-2039. Conference information can be accessed at the New Mexico Center for Energy Policy website nmcep.nmt.edu.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech