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BUSH PLAN FOR NUCLEAR POWER AND PLUTONIUM
INVITES NUCLEAR ACCIDENTS AND PROLIFERATION
The Nuclear Control Institute today released the following statement of NCI President Paul Leventhal in response to the Bush Administrations release of its energy plan:
The Bush Administrations call for a major expansion of nuclear power and for reconsideration of reprocessing and use of plutonium, an atom bomb material, as reactor fuel, is a 21st century sirens song. This invitation to catastrophe is especially worrisome because it is so misinformed.
A push for nuclear power isnt the way to meet urgent energy needs. New plants could not be brought on line fast enough to offset present electricity shortages and would do little to reduce greenhouse gas emission, two-thirds of which come from the transportation and other sectors. Energy efficiency and alternative energy measures could be implemented to offset the need to build any new nuclear plants, thus avoiding reactor-safety and weapons-proliferation risks associated with nuclear power. (See todays New York Times op-ed article at http://www.nci.org/oped.htm.)
The Bush energy plan endorses consideration of conventional reprocessing for waste management, which also separates plutonium for use as fuel in reactors. It also presses for pyroprocessing and accelerator transmutation of plutonium and other long-lived radioactive products in nuclear reactor spent fuel. Both approaches to reprocessing are uneconomic and dangerous.
"The plan makes no mention of the enormous cost projected for establishing a pyroprocessing and transmutation system. The Department of Energy estimated in 1999 that this program would cost $280 billion and take 100 years to complete. Transmutation, which involves pyroprocessing, reprocessing and sub-critical nuclear reactors, is highly problematical and does not eliminate the need for a final waste repository.
The Bush energy plan cites the reprocessing experience of Britain, France and Japan as an example for the United States to follow. In fact, neither France, Britain nor Japan has a long-term plan to dispose of high-level waste associated with reprocessing. They are currently struggling with what to do with reprocessing waste and growing stockpiles of weapons-usable plutonium.
The French national utility recently admitted that reactor fuel made with separated plutonium is three to four times more expensive than the conventional fuel made with low-enriched uranium that cannot be used in bombs.
The British plutonium program has proved an economic and technological disaster, with a stockpile of some 70 metric tons of separated plutonium and no domestic utilities willing or able to use it. The British Industrial Forum recently declared: Proliferation is a major issue in the nuclear fuel cycle. Nuclear power may become more acceptable to the public if reprocessing is shut down.
The Japanese plutonium program is frozen in controversy because of safety and security concerns and high costs associated with mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel and due to an accident in 1995 which closed the Japanese breeder reactor, Monju. It is also generating tensions in East Asia as Japans neighbors wonder why the Japanese are accumulating such a large stockpile of atom bomb material.
The only good thing that might come from President Bushs dalliance with plutonium is that his plutonium plan will inspire close scrutiny and expose the lie that the European and Japanese reprocessing programs have been living, sheltered from market forces and shielded from public debate by the government-owned monopolies that run them.
Close scrutiny will also expose the shallowness of the arguments put forward by the nuclear industrys friends on Capitol Hill, who have been pushing the Bush Administration to reverse the decisions against reprocessing made in the Ford, Carter and Reagan Administrations and to follow the Europeans and Japanese instead.
In addition to the security concerns associated with keeping commercial plutonium out of the wrong hands, there are also major safety concerns associated with the processing, transport, storage and use of this deadly carcinogen. A speck of plutonium the size of a pollen grain, if caught in the lungs, causes cancer.
A recent study by NCIs Scientific Director, Dr. Edwin Lyman, to appear in the next issue of the Princeton University journal Science & Global Security (pdf/lyman-mox-sgs.pdf), shows that a power reactor that is fueled with plutonium fuel (MOX) fuel in one-quarter of a reactors core, would cause 100% more latent cancer fatalities in the event of a severe reactor accident, compared with the same accident involving a reactor with all-uranium fuel in its core. An accident involving a 100%-MOX core could result in a 300% increase in cancer fatalities.
The Bush Administration is now pushing a program to dispose of excess weapons plutonium by turning it into MOX fuel for use in U.S. power reactors. This program opens the door for reprocessing and reuse of plutonium from commercial reactor fuel. Fuel made with weapons plutonium, a different grade than commercial plutonium, would kill 25% more people in a severe reactor accident, compared with all-uranium fuel, according to Dr. Lymans study. This program is even more dangerous in Russia where reactor safety and materials security fall far below western standards.
Surplus weapons plutonium in the U.S. and Russia, as well as commercial plutonium worldwide, should be immobilized in existing highly radioactive, self-protecting nuclear waste. The Bush Administration is taking the most dangerous course, and setting the wrong example, by advocating the separation of plutonium from commercial spent fuel and by killing off funding for the immobilization program to dispose of military plutonium as waste rather than use it as fuel.
Note to editors: Papers on energy efficiency, energy alternatives, and proliferation risks of nuclear power from NCIs April 9 Conference, Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons: Can We Have One Without the Other?, can be found at http://www.nci.org/conference.htm.
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