Why GNEP can't jump to the future

Apr 23, 2007

Congress is now considering whether to approve or zero out the $405 million that President Bush is proposing to spend in fiscal year 2008 on the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP)—a program aimed at rendering plutonium inert in nuclear weapons but still useful in nuclear power plants.

Nuclear experts at the National Academy of Sciences have long questioned the practicability of the technologies GNEP plans to employ. Currently, the Government Accounting Office is now reviewing the program. This, however, leaves legislators with an information gap as they struggle to decide whether to fully fund the plan, eliminate it altogether, or redirect some of its funding to the many successful energy programs whose budgets President Bush is proposing to gut in FY 2008. In particular, major questions have been raised about the magnitude and costs of radioactive wastes stemming from the GNEP program.

To help legislators and the American public bridge this information gap, the Institute for Policy Studies will release a rigorous study of GNEP on April 23rd. Directed by Robert Alvarez, Senior Policy Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Energy from 1993 to 1999, the report concludes that the program is likely to squander billions in taxpayer dollars on an unproven reprocessing technology that will generate unprecedented and unmanageable amounts of highly radioactive wastes without plausible disposition paths.

The potentially deadly flaws documented in Alvarez’s study include:

-- The amount of long-lived radioactivity disposed of into the environment at a reprocessing site could be thousands of times greater than from nuclear weapons production. Much smaller concentrations of similar wastes at the DOE’s Savannah River Site have been characterized by the National Academy of Sciences as representing "a long term safety concern."

-- GNEP would allow large quantities of cesium 135—a radionuclide with a half life of 2.3 million years—to be disposed in the near surface and pose serious contamination problems for many thousands of years.

-- More than four thousand shipments of spent nuclear reactor fuel will be transported on rails and highways through cities and farmlands to the reprocessing site, posing unprecedented emergency response and security challenges.

-- Despite DOE’s claims that recycling of reactor spent fuel will solve the nuclear waste disposal problem, a small fraction is likely to be recycled. Uranium constitutes more than 95 percent of the materials in spent nuclear fuel by weight. But, it will require costly treatment for reuse in reactors – estimated in the billions of dollars. As a result, DOE’s plans include the landfill disposal of tens of thousands of tons of recovered uranium.

Alvarez’s study concludes that the Energy Department "lacks a credible plan for management and disposal of radioactive wastes stemming from the GNEP program, particularly regarding waste volumes, site specific impacts, regulatory requirements and life-cycle costs."

Or as Alvarez has put it more bluntly in conversation, "You can’t just park some of the most highly radioactive wastes in the world at a landfill and assume that by so doing you have kept them safely removed from humans for the next 2.3 million years."

Source: Institute for Policy Studies

Explore further: New study details future of oil and gas development in the Western Amazon

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researcher urges nuclear waste options

Aug 18, 2006

The Bush administration is eagerly pushing nuclear power as a way to help solve the U.S. energy crisis. But in its new plan for nuclear waste management, the administration is taking the wrong approach, says an MIT professor ...

Recommended for you

Measuring phosphorus loss from Midwest crop fields

9 hours ago

Field runoff from farms in the Lake Erie basin is often rich in soluble plant nutrients, including phosphorus. When this nutrient-rich runoff reaches the lake, the phosphorus can support abundant algal blooms ...

FACT CHECK: Both sides in Keystone XL debate bend facts

22 hours ago

Supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to the Gulf, say the privately funded, $8 billion project is a critically needed piece of infrastructure that will create thousands of jobs ...

Sao Paulo warns of severe water rationing

Jan 28, 2015

Authorities in Sao Paulo, Brazil's richest state and economic hub, have warned they are considering severe water rationing if the country's worst drought in 80 years continues.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.