George Erb of the Puget Sound Business Journal recently shot some ink at Washington Governor Chris Gregoire. He wrote:

Earlier this year Washington was competing with four other states for a $2 billion uranium enrichment plant that could be located on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The facility would employ about 400.

But Areva, the French company that proposed the plant, announced in May that it would build the facility at Idaho Falls, Idaho. The Tri-Cities were stunned.

The Tri-City Herald later learned, through a public records request for correspondence, that the governor’s office was aware of Areva’s offer as long ago as the summer of 2007.

Civic leaders had urged the governor’s office to help close the deal for the state. But the Tri-City Herald discovered that Gregoire instead canceled a telephone call with Areva’s chief executive in September 2007. Then she didn’t contact the company for another six months.

Um. I don’t know terribly much about this, but it smells a little off.

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  • I suspect it’s just an election-year broadside from an editor who supports another candidate. But it’s a silly little accusation, isn’t it?

    If you were the CEO of a company deciding where to put a $2 billion plant, would you pay terribly much attention to whether the governor of one of the states under consideration as a siting option promptly rescheduled a phone call? Would you even notice? It strikes me as the kind of issue that would be left to the executive assistants who run the CEO and governor’s calendars. Any CEO who would be swayed by a 30 minute pitch from a governor, rather than the detailed and voluminous analysis of his or her own team is a CEO not worth his or her salary. The notion that courtesy calls from governors sway business executives has always struck me as naïve.

    But that point is mere etiquette. Even if you assume the worst about the governor’s office—that it was too focused on, say, leading state government and setting public policy to make sales calls to French nuclear companies—there’s still the public policy question. Do we even want a $2 billion uranium enrichment plant in Washington? Or in Idaho, for that matter? As one astute blog reader pointed out in an email yesterday, “The Tri Cities are trying hard to emerge from being the most polluted place in America into a center of scientific excellence, preparing for the 21st century. The people of Washington have voted not to allow shipments of radioactive waste to be sent there for storage. Yet an enrichment plant would produce huge new volumes of (low-level) waste—demonstrating to anyone who was thinking of locating clean tech there that it will be a nuclear community forever. It would have produced a fair number of short-run construction jobs, a small number of permanent jobs, and committed the community indelibly to an industry that has a bleak future.”

    The Northwest’s jobs future has more to do with enriching sunlight and the wind than it does with enriching uranium. The region’s jobs rush for green-collar industries has been impressive. It’s conceivable that uranium enrichment is an economic ankle weight.