Mar. 29, 2007 – As the Department of Energy wraps up a nationwide tour to collect public feedback on a nuclear energy program, environmentalists are urging the government to abandon the plan.
The DOEâ€™s proposal, part of the Bush administrationâ€™s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), calls for the "expansion of domestic and international nuclear energy production" through "reprocessing" spent nuclear fuel. The plan would require the construction of three new nuclear-fuel recycling facilities in the United States.
Commercial reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel â€“ the act of separating usable elements such as plutonium from nuclear waste â€“ has been banned or discouraged in the United States for the last 30 years because reprocessed fuel could be used to create nuclear weapons.
The DOE is in the process of preparing an environmental-impact statement on GNEP. The agency has held meetings in thirteen cities to survey public opinion about the project. The DOE is accepting public comments about GNEP until April 4.
The Bush Administration has touted GNEP as a way to meet energy demands without emitting greenhouse gases. GNEP also includes international initiatives to supply other countries with "nuclear-fuel services" if they refrain from building their own atomic facilities, and to promote nuclear reactors in other countries.
But critics to the plan, including the groups like Union of Concerned Scientists, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Public Citizen, say that reprocessing spent nuclear fuel contributes to other environmental dangers: non-disposable, highly dangerous radioactive waste and the potential for catastrophic nuclear accidents.
The NRDC also cautioned in a 2006 report that reprocessing spent nuclear fuel would undermine the governmentâ€™s credibility on nuclear nonproliferation. The Bush administration, however, maintains that GNEP is using "proliferation-resistant technologies" to reprocess the fuel.
The grassroots organization Progressive Democrats of America also criticized GNEP, saying on its website that it prefers other, cleaner sources of energy. "We donâ€™t need nuclear power," the group said. "With political will we could harvest enough energy from the sun, the wind, the tides and geothermal to provide all our energy needs."