Idaho State Journal editorial
March 22, 2007
The huge research facilities proposed by the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership are not your father’s nightmare. They are safe, necessary and potentially profitable to Idaho if the Idaho National Laboratory can persuade the federal Department of Energy to locate at least one of three new facilities here.
Here’s the background: DOE is evaluating 11 sites across the country to compete for a nuclear fuel recycling center, an advanced “fast reactor,” and a test facility. More than 350 people turned out last week at a DOE hearing in Idaho Falls, most of them in support of the proposal.
John Bennion, an associate professor and interim chair for nuclear engineering at Idaho State University, explains the GNEP projects: “To be recycled, or reprocessed, is about 50,000 tons of spent fuel now stored at U S nuclear power plants as well as spent fuel produced in years ahead at new and existing nuclear plants. Spent fuel contains valuable plutonium and uranium that can be chemically separated from highly radioactive byproducts to produce new fuel for generating electricity at advanced nuclear power plants.”
Safely, one assumes.
At stake are a $16 billion U.S. investment and 8,000 jobs.
Bennion predicts by mid-century at least 1,000 nuclear power plants are likely to be operating around the world, compared to 445 today.
He says new recycling technologies awaiting research and development could thwart the diversion of plutonium for weapons. Unlike old reprocessing techniques, the new ones would not yield pure plutonium — diluting it with a small quantity of other materials, making its use for nuclear weapons
It was the fear of plutonium misuse that prompted President Jimmy Carter to ban nuclear fuel recycling in 1977, even as other nuclear countries forged ahead with recycling. Bennion says many Americans wrongly mistake spent fuel for nuclear waste, but nuclear pioneers always assumed that fuel would be recycled to recover the plutonium and unburned uranium for reuse.
Thirteen applicants in eight states, including Idaho, are in the running for the GNEP projects. If Idaho does not want them, others will be eager to accept them. Bennion points out that safe, clean and reliable nuclear power is the best technology for reducing greenhouse emissions, the current drawback to coal-fired plants.
That would validate the decades-old dream of nuclear pioneers. And if the Department of Energy can provide ironclad guarantees of safety, bring it all on.