Science panel calls for Bush to dump nuclear waste plan


WASHINGTON -- A panel of the National Academy of Sciences urged President George W. Bush on Monday to abandon a plan to resume nuclear waste reprocessing that is the heart of the administration's push to expand civilian use of nuclear power.

The 17-member panel said the proposed Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, or GNEP, hasn't been adequately reviewed and is banking on reprocessing technology that hasn't been proved, or isn't expected to be ready in the time the administration envisions.
It said if the administration proceeds as planned there will be "significant technical and financial risks."
Bush announced the initiative in 2006 and has touted it as key to U.S. efforts to deal with a growing amount of highly radioactive reactor waste and still allow a large expansion of commercial nuclear power.

The plan envisions a few nations, including the United States and Russia, supplying others with reactor fuel and reprocessing their used fuel.

Dennis Spurgeon, the Energy Department's assistant secretary for nuclear energy, said the committee conclusions represented "a misconception" of the program and that the department "fully recognizes the complexity and time needed."

The program has been criticized by nuclear nonproliferation activists and has received a chilly reception in Congress, which has refused to provide the short-term funding the Energy Department requested.

Nuclear fuel reprocessing continues in Europe and Japan, but the United States abandoned it in the 1970s because of concerns the plutonium created poses a nuclear proliferation risk. But the program envisions a different reprocessing method advocates argue would not create pure plutonium.

The Energy Department says the program, in the long run, will reduce the cost of commercial reactor waste disposal and remove the need for more underground waste repositories beyond the proposed Yucca Mountain dump in Nevada.

The panel concluded that the program, even if pursued, is not expected to be ready in time to deal with the commercial nuclear waste accumulating at 104 U.S. commercial power reactors and the waste expected to be added from the reactors being built.