"We are engaged in a unique undertaking, one that joins governments of the East and West, North and South in the pursuit of a common goal: the safe expansion of nuclear power around the world."– Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman in Vienna, September 2007
While the House of Representatives and the Senate have considerable differences with the Bush Administration regarding the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), international interest in GNEP is growing. In mid-September, a meeting was held in Vienna, Austria where the nations participating in the Partnership tripled in number.
House and Senate appropriators made significant reductions in the Administration's FY 2008 $395 million GNEP request. The current budget for activities associated with GNEP is $168 million. House appropriators recommending cutting the FY 2008 budget to $120 million, less than a third of the request. In explaining its actions, the appropriators wrote:
"The Committee supports continued research on advanced fuel cycles, including the development of technologies for recycling spent nuclear fuel. However, the Committee does not support the Department's rushed, poorly-defined, expansive, and expensive Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) proposal. There is no compelling urgency to reach a decision point in the summer of 2008, nor is there urgency to begin the development of commercial-scale recycling facilities. Further research is required before the U.S. should commit the magnitude of funding proposed under the GNEP initiative."
GNEP fared better in the Senate. Senate appropriators recommended $243 million, almost two-thirds of the request. They wrote:
"While the Committee has members who support the administration's efforts on GNEP there are also members who have questions regarding the cost, pace, science, technology, and nonproliferation implications underpinning the GNEP initiative. The Committee believes the administration must come forward with greater scientific, technical, and policy information that examines more alternatives in the fuel cycle and recycling process."
FYI #95 provides additional information on the appropriators' recommendations (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2007/095.html.)
GNEP was proposed by President Bush last year. In May of this year, Energy Secretary Bodman and representatives from China, France, Japan, and the Russian Federation released a joint statement described by DOE as "a path forward toward increasing the use of safe, reliable and affordable nuclear power worldwide." The one-page statement emphasized the nuclear fuel cycle, including recycling of spent nuclear fuel, safeguards and security, advanced fast reactors, and nonproliferation (see http://www.gnep.energy.gov/pdfs/GNEP_Joint_Statement.pdf.)
Less than four months after the joint statement was issued, Bodman and representatives of the other four countries traveled to Vienna for the Second Global Nuclear Energy Partnership Ministerial. Addressing representatives from 38 countries and three intergovernmental organizations, Bodman said "our task today is to formally commit to the principles espoused by GNEP and to begin discussions with like-minded countries that seek to develop civilian nuclear power in a safe and secure manner." Bodman identified several key issues: dealing with waste materials "in a responsible manner," infrastructure costs, developing technologies to increase the efficiency of the fuel cycle, and the risks associated by the proliferation of nuclear materials and sensitive technologies. He told the participants, "To put it simply, the world needs GNEP. Renewable energy - wind, solar, geothermal and fuels made from biomass - are part of the solution. But, as we have already learned in the United States, they are not sufficient to meet the challenge. . . . we must face the central fact that nuclear power is the only mature technology able today to supply sufficiently large amounts of emissions-free base load power to the world to meet the projected growth in demand for electricity."
A non binding Statement of Principles was signed at the meeting. Among the objectives of this statement are "Develop, demonstrate, and in due course deploy advanced fast reactors that consume transuranic elements from recycled spent fuel" and "Develop and demonstrate, inter alia, advanced technologies for recycling spent nuclear fuel for deployment in facilities that do not separate pure plutonium, with a long term goal of ceasing separation of plutonium and eventually eliminating stocks of separated civilian plutonium. Such advanced fuel cycle technologies, when available, would help substantially reduce nuclear waste, simplify its disposition and draw down inventories of civilian spent fuel in a safe, secure, and proliferation-resistant manner."
The entire Statement of Principles, as well as the sixteen signatories to this statement, can be viewed at http://www.gnep.energy.gov/pdfs/gnepSOP_091607.pdf
At this meeting, officials announced the formation of a Nuclear Fuel Services Working Group to develop, as described by DOE, "practical measures and benefits for comprehensive fuel services, such as fuel leasing and other arrangements for spent fuel management."
A NOTE TO OUR READERS: Audrey Leath, co-writer of FYI since 1991, has accepted a position at the American Chemical Society. In addition to her contributions to FYI, Audrey managed AIP's Congressional Fellowship Program and State Department Fellowship Program. My AIP colleagues join me in wishing her the very best in her new position.