Uranium Enrichment Plant Proposed for New Mexico

The uranium enrichment centrifuge plant that gets the most attention these days is in Iran, but a larger one, carefully watched by the civilian nuclear power industry and its opponents, is taking shape here, in the desert just west of the Texas border. If...

Hearings in the fall will examine whether the technology is safe and whether the company will set aside enough money for cleanup. Two commercial fuel processing plants have become federal liabilities.

Supporters say the plant would modernize nuclear fuel production and cut its costs.

Mr. Cohen said that 70 percent of the plant's first 10 years of production had been sold and that the plant would be viable whether or not any new reactors were built. The last time a reactor was ordered in this country and not canceled was 1973.

The plant would enrich enough uranium to make about 5 percent of the electricity used in the country.

Although Governor Richardson has said that the waste problem is central, local sentiment seems favorable. The plant would run for 30 years and according to Louisiana Energy would provide 210 permanent jobs with an annual payroll of $10 million, including benefits, a substantial sum amid the region's fields of peanuts and cotton, interspersed with oil and gas wells.

Harry Teague, who is chairman of the Lea County Commission and whose business is oilfield services, said the oil and gas business was strong but added, ''Hobbs has always been a boom-and-bust town.''

Existing local industry is dangerous, Mr. Teague said, citing the hydrogen sulfide gas that rises with methane out of most natural gas wells here. Nuclear fuel is not risk free, he said, but ''it's not near as bad as hydrogen sulfide.''

Map of New Mexico highlighting Hobbs: If built, a plant near Hobbs, N.M., would enrich uranium for fuel.