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Nuclear Relapse Goes Global

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from NIRS Nuclear Monitor Feb 24 2006 pps 1-3

The Bush administration’s US$2.77 trillion fiscal year 2007 federal budget proposes cuts in environmental protections and social programs, while lowering taxes on the wealthy. (1) Instead it includes increased funding for nuclear energy initiatives.

(642.5746) NIRS – These include a
proposed international expansion of
nuclear power and a revival of domestic
nuclear waste reprocessing called the
“Global Nuclear Energy Partnership,” or
GNEP. The US$23.6 billion proposed
budget for the U.S. Dept. of Energy
(DOE), a US$124 million increase over
last year’s funding level, includes a
US$250 million request to Congress for
In his 2006 State of the Union speech
delivered on January 31, Bush called
for an “Advanced Energy Initiative,”
stating, “America is addicted to oil.”
But he still seems intent on trading one
addiction for another, calling for
increased investment in “clean, safe
nuclear energy.” GNEP, announced a
week after the State of the Union,
“builds on advances made to
encourage more nuclear power in the
U.S., including the Nuclear Power 2010
program and the Energy Policy Act of
2005.” The Energy Policy Act
authorizes US$13 billion in taxpayer
subsidies aimed at promoting the
building of the first new reactors in the
U.S. in over 30 years. These subsidies
were authorized despite the nuclear
power industry already having been
heavily subsidized for the past 50
years. (2)
Bush signed the Energy Policy Act on
August 8, 2005 (in between the
commemorations of the 60th
anniversary of the Hiroshima and
Nagasaki atomic bombings) at Sandia
National Laboratory in New Mexico,
immediately next door to one of the
largest concentrations of stored nuclear
warheads in the U.S. at Albuquerque’s
Kirtland Air Force Base. The state’s two
U.S. Senators, Republican Pete
Domenici and Democrat Jeff Bingaman
accompanied Bush. Domenici is Chair
and Bingaman a Ranking Member of
the Senate Energy and Natural
Resources Committee – the first time in
U.S. history that two Senators from the
same state hold both top spots on any
committee. Sandia performs a large
amount of nuclear related research, and
along with Los Alamos National
Laboratory (birthplace of the atomic
bomb), the two nuclear labs are the
largest employers in the state. (3)
Although Bush did not mention
reprocessing in his State of the Union
speech, Energy Secretary Sam Bodman
and Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell
gave GNEP’s unveiling a very high
profile at the DOE budget “roll out” on
February 6. (4) Reprocessing is at the
heart of the Bush administration’s
proposed global nuclear power
expansion, supposedly to “recycle” and
“reduce” radioactive waste, as well as
to prevent the proliferation of nuclear
weapons to “terrorists” and “rogue states.”

GNEP conjures memories reminiscent
of President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for
Peace” heyday of the 1950s, and its
fission fantasies of “too cheap to
meter” by the U.S. Atomic Energy
Commission’s Chairman Lewis Strauss
and “Our Friend the Atom” by Walt
Disney. For example, Bodman said
“GNEP brings the promise of virtually
limitless energy to emerging economies
around the globe, in an environmentally
friendly manner while reducing the
threat of nuclear proliferation. If we can
make GNEP a reality, we can make the
world a better, cleaner, safer place to
live.” Bodman’s fanaticism for nuclear
power and reprocessing runs deep: he
went so far as to say that GNEP is “a
program that we all believe has the
potential to change the world – we
believe that.” But the question is,
change it for the better, or worse?
Describing a global nuclear power
expansion, combined with a revival of
reprocessing, as a radioactive waste
reduction and nuclear weapons nonproliferation
initiative has to win some
kind of prize for extraordinary
recklessness, brashness and
brazenness. Orwell must be rolling over
in his grave so fast that he would
qualify for electricity production tax
credits under the energy bill! (5)
Obviously, more reactors would mean
more highly radioactive waste with
nowhere to go. And reprocessing
actually increases the volume of wastes
requiring disposal, without lowering its
temperature or radiotoxicity. (6)
Dr. Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for
Energy and Environmental Research
has pointed out that “?after
accounting for the uranium, the
intermediate level waste (which should
be disposed of in a WIPP-like deep
repository because of its high specific
activity), and the vitrified waste, the
volume of waste due to reprocessing
commercial irradiated nuclear fuel
destined for a repository ends up being
far greater than the original spent
fuel?” In addition, left over uranium
(uranium comprises 94 percent of the
weight of irradiated fuel) would be
contaminated with plutonium and other
high activity radionuclides, and would
be radioactive enough to require
disposal in a repository. Also, the MOX
irradiated fuel associated with
plutonium “recycling” is itself generally
not suitable for reprocessing, is hotter
in terms of radioactivity and
temperature than regular irradiated fuel,
and presents a bigger problem for
disposal in a repository. (7)
Commercial nuclear waste reprocessing
was banned by U.S. Presidents Ford
(Republican) and Carter (Democrat) in
the mid to late 1970s as part of a
nuclear weapons non-proliferation
policy after India had hidden its
successful nuclear weapons
development program behind an
“atoms for peace” facade. Although
President Reagan (Republican)
overturned that ban, the practice has
never been revived, as plutonium mixed
oxide fuel derived from reprocessing is
significantly more expensive than
uranium fuel derived straight from the
mines and mills.
It is also quite misleading to portray
reprocessing as clean or green, given
that it represents the dirtiest single step
in the nuclear fuel chain. The history of
worker and public radiation doses and
environmental contamination at past
and current reprocessing facilities
shows this. West Valley, New York – the
only commercial waste reprocessing
facility ever to operate in the U.S., from
1966 to 1972 – suffered over US$5
billion worth of contamination, despite
reprocessing only one year’s worth of
the projected waste inventory.
The emissions from Sellafield and La
Hague account for an incredible 90%
and 80%, respectively, of the U.K.’s
and France’s radioactive emissions
from their entire nuclear industries.
Plutonium has been found in children’s
teeth hundreds of miles away from
Sellafield. Leukaemia and cancer
clusters have been found in
neighbouring communities near
Sellafield and La Hague. Ireland and
Scandinavian countries are in an uproar
over liquid emissions into the ocean
that have contaminated seafood as far
away as the Arctic. (8)
The Union of Concerned Scientists has
publicized DOE’s own research,
showing clearly that the reprocessing
technologies advocated by GNEP are
not proliferation-resistant. (9) The Bush
administration’s timing in unveiling
GNEP could not be worse, given its
supposed concern about alleged
nuclear weapons proliferation in Iran via
uranium enrichment, and
acknowledged proliferation in North
Korea via reprocessing. The United
States is effectively saying to other
countries “do as I say, not as I do.”
Seemingly oblivious to the irony, given
the Bush administration’s proposed
cuts to social programs at home and
abroad, Bodman has even described
GNEP as an international poverty
alleviation program. He has stated “We
can abandon the world’s
underdeveloped nations to poverty and
squalor, and stand by while they
struggle to meet their growing energy
needs with fossil fuels. Or we can work
in cooperation with other nuclear fuelcycle
states to provide these nations
with commercially attractive, safe and
proliferation-resistant sources of
nuclear energy.” (10) Is this an Atomic
Age update on Marie Antoinette, “Let
them eat plutonium”?
Perhaps most unbelievable in the GNEP
proposal, considering the lack of any
good solutions for what to do with the
U.S.’s own wastes, is the DOE’s offer
to import irradiated fuel from other
countries for reprocessing and ultimate
disposal in this country (U.S.).
Correspondingly, the Bush
administration is formulating legislation
that will override any remaining
impediment to opening the dump
targeted at Yucca Mountain, Nevada –
such “minor inconveniences” as any
remaining, meaningful public health or
environmental protections that have
survived the countless previous
regulatory rollbacks and short cuts on
safety. It will also attempt to greatly
increase the amount of waste that can
legally be buried at Yucca, thus
forestalling the opening of several
additional repositories in this century
alone, according to Sell. This legislation
will be introduced by Sen. Domenici in
the near future, and could very well
lead to a political “bloodbath” on the
Senate floor, given the fact that
stopping the Yucca dump is Senate
Democratic Leader Harry Reid’s top
priority. DOE went so far as to suggest
that reprocessing could be carried out
at Yucca Mountain, the first time it has
publicly suggested such an idea. (11)
DOE’s GNEP press conference ended
on a most ironic note. Someone from
the media asked, “What was wrong
with GNEI as a name for this as I
understand was the original working
title? G-N-E-I.” Global Nuclear Energy
Initiative was the original name for the
proposal, pronounced “genie.” Sell
responded “We have working titles then
the communicators take over.” The
assembled press laughed. The
questioner followed up with “Not
something that should be kept in a
bottle? Is that one of the advantages of
GNEP?” Sell answered, “I guess. We do
not intend to keep GNEP in a bottle.”
More laughter. But was it nervous
laughter? “Genie” seems quite an
appropriate name, as in “Oh foolish
man, thou hast cleansed the magic
lamp. But canst thou tame what’s been
(1) “Bush 2007 Budget Underwrites
Nuclear, Cuts Environmental
Programs,” Environmental News
Service, Feb. 6, 2006. See
(2) 2006 State of the Union,
20060131-10.html; DOE GNEP
slide show overview,
Public Citizen, “The Best Energy
Bill Corporations Could Buy:
Summary of Industry Giveaways in
the 2005 Energy Bill,” at
(3) “President Signs Energy Policy
Act,” Office of the Press Secretary,
The White House, Aug. 8, 2005, at
(4) “Department of Energy Announces
New Nuclear Initiative: Global
Nuclear Energy Partnership to
expand safe, clean, reliable,
affordable nuclear energy
worldwide,” Feb. 6, 2006 at
gnepPublicInformation.html; also
“Press Briefing by Deputy
Secretary of Energy Clay Sell
Announcing the Global Nuclear
Energy Partnership,” Feb. 6, 2006
(5) At a recent anti-nuclear power
summit sponsored by Friends of
the Earth in Washington, D.C., U.S.
Representative Ed Markey
(Democrat, Massachusetts)
described the huge taxpayer
subsidies to the nuclear power
industry as so outlandish that
Adam Smith, author of “The Wealth
of Nations” and philosophical
founder of the “free market,” must
be spinning so fast in his grave
that he’d qualify for energy
production tax credits.
(6) “?Reprocessing does not reduce
the need for storage and disposal
of radioactive waste. Reprocessing
merely converts one waste form —
spent fuel — into a number of
different waste forms, including
contaminated uranium. In fact, the
total volume of all the radioactive
wastes requiring disposal increases
by a factor of twenty or more.
Reprocessing has little impact on
the required repository capacity?,”
from Union of Concerned
Scientists, “Reprocessing of Spent
Fuel from Nuclear Reactors: An
Expensive and Dangerous Road to
Nowhere,” Jan. 2006.
(7) “International experience with
reprocessing and related
technologies,” Jan. 25, 2006, at
(8) See NIRS factsheet “Just Say No
to the Radioactive Waste
Reprocessing Relapse,” at
(9) UCS, “Department of Energy
Research Contradicts
Administration Claims of
Reprocessing: New Initiative Would
Make Nuclear Terrorism Easier,”
February 9, 2006 at
(10) Tom Doggett, “Recycling nuke fuel
may thwart terrorism: Bodman,”
Reuters, Feb. 13, 2006.
(11) “Domenici to promote Yucca Mt.
bill,” Inside Energy EXTRA, Jan. 9,
2006; Steve Tetrault, “Federal
Budget: New front for Yucca
argument,” Las Vegas Review-
Journal, Feb. 7, 2006, at
news/5755804.html; Brian Allen,
“DOE Wants Yucca to be The
World’s Nuclear Repository,”
KLAS-TV, Las Vegas, NV, Feb. 16,
2006, at
Contact: Kevin Kamps at NIRS,
ISSN: 1570-4629
Reproduction of this material is
encouraged. Please give credit when
Editorial team: Tinu Otoki and
Peer de Rijk (WISE Amsterdam), Michael
Mariotte (NIRS).
With contributions from Earthlife Africa,
Laka Foundation, NIRS and WISE Brno.
Apologies for the lateness of this issue!
The next issue (643) will be mailed out
on (time) March 10, 2006.


PFS receives license

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission
(NRC) has awarded Private Fuel
Storage its first license to store
nuclear waste at its proposed facility
in Utah. The license does not
however authorise the construction
of the facility. PFS still has many
hurdles to overcome, not least to
secure funds to finance the build and
also to conceive of another method
of delivering the waste to the
proposed site on the Skull Valley
Goshute Indian Reservation after its
preferred route was blocked by the
creation of a wilderness area. (See
also WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor
641.5743 “Utah Wilderness Victory
Hinders Radioactive Waste Dump)
The Salt Lake Tribune, February 14,

FEBRUARY 24, 2006 No. 642