January 4, 2007
As the public has become more comfortable with nuclear power as a clean and safe energy resource, anti-nuclear groups across the country have stepped up their misleading rhetoric. The latest misrepresentation of nuclear energy appeared in the Idaho Statesman on Dec. 10, courtesy of Jeremy Maxand of the Snake River Alliance. Mr. Maxand attempted to draw a connection between
nuclear weapons proliferation and the recycling of used nuclear fuel. He used this connection as grounds for attacking the proposed Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), a visionary program announced by the U.S. government earlier this year. The goal of GNEP is to enable the ongoing global expansion in the use of nuclear energy to proceed in a way that doesn’t add to concerns about weapons proliferation — exactly the opposite of Mr. Maxand’s characterization.
GNEP envisions a future where nations with established nuclear energy capabilities provide assured nuclear fuel supply and disposal services to nations who agree to forego nuclear fuel enrichment and reprocessing. Three years ago a similar model was proposed by Mohammed ElBaradei, 2005’s Nobel Peace Prize winner. Last September, the Nuclear Threat Initiative — the nation’s preeminent non-governmental anti-proliferation organization — pledged $50 million to help guarantee that assured fuel supply would become
a reality. Mr. Maxand’s opposition, lacking both logic and expertise, simply defies credibility.
A GNEP future would include use of advanced nuclear reactors based on technologies pioneered right here in Idaho. More than 100 operating reactors already produce 20 percent of U.S. electricity while emitting virtually no greenhouse gases or air pollutants. For developing countries with smaller electricity needs, the United States and other countries would provide safe, proliferation-resistant nuclear reactors that can be used to supply electricity or meet other energy-intensive needs such as water purification.
The GNEP vision includes the recycling of used nuclear fuel, which will drastically reduce the long-term environmental burden of used fuel disposal and will increase the amount of energy extracted from the fuel by a factor of nearly 100. In the years ahead, there will likely be legitimate debate about the pace and timing of GNEP’s implementation, but its vision of clean nuclear energy benefiting humankind while reducing proliferation concerns will remain compelling.
Some groups think we should oppose the recycling of used nuclear fuel because it is possible to extract weapons-useable materials via recycling. If you follow that same logic, we should stop using fertilizer and diesel fuel because they were used to blow up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. As we all know, there are many technologies that can be used either to do good or to do harm. The key is to put in place controls that allow the benefits of these technologies to be realized safely. GNEP proposes to do exactly that. In fact, Boise will be at the hub of GNEP for a few days next September when some 600 experts from 25 countries assemble here to discuss advances in the nuclear fuel cycle.
Most of the rest of the world has decided to recycle its used nuclear fuel because it is a more efficient use of energy resources and it reduces long-term waste burdens. The United States stopped recycling 30 years ago and tried to persuade other nations to follow our example. That strategy of attempting to lead from the rear has been an abject failure. Whether you’re talking about newspapers or aluminum cans or nuclear fuel, recycling makes the kind of sense that people understand. And no amount of anti-nuclear propaganda is going to change that.
Harold McFarlane, left, is president of American Nuclear Society and Lane Allgood is executive director of Partnership for Science and Technology.