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December 11, 2006
Volume 84, Number 50
p. 12

Reprocessing proposed

DOE Promotes Nuclear Energy

Spent fuel would be 'recycled' until delayed repository opens

Jeff Johnson

Beginning construction of the first U.S. nuclear power plant in more than 30 years and convincing the public that the government can handle nuclear waste are key Bush Administration energy policy goals for its last 800 days in office, according to Clay Sell, deputy secretary of the Department of Energy.

Image Title DOE

Sell spoke on Dec. 5 to a conference of several hundred nuclear advocates, drawn together by the promise of the Administration's proposed Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. GNEP would have the U.S. lead an international partnership to expand use of nuclear energy and to reprocess spent nuclear fuel for reuse throughout the world. Currently, however, the U.S. by law may not reprocess spent fuel and must place it in an underground repository.

But Sell laid out a new U.S. nuclear waste program that will undertake reprocessing and reuse of spent fuel while work goes forward on the long-stalled Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada. Under the most optimistic scenarios, the repository will not open until 2017 to 2020, Sell said. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration wants nuclear power to advance.

"We think we can develop—on a temporary basis—the consolidation of spent nuclear fuel at several U.S. recycling locations where it can be dealt with and where we can extract great energy value while we are working on the long-term goal of licensing and building a permanent geological repository," Sell said. "Let's be real about 'temporary,' " he added, "we are talking about decades."

Some 11 U.S. communities have expressed an interest in housing a GNEP reprocessing facility, DOE says.

Recent changes in congressional leadership will present a stumbling block, particularly in the Senate, where Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will become majority leader. Reid, although a nuclear power supporter, opposes the waste repository's location in Nevada.

The Administration's and nuclear industry's challenge, Sell said, is to show Nevada residents that nuclear reprocessing and the repository will be a "tremendously positive thing," with new jobs and a new state industry.

"I see a future in Nevada where facilities out there become centers of excellence for some of the most important materials in the world."

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society