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You Can Help Close the Nuclear Fuel Cycle!

No, this doesn't mean that we need you to find the best way to transmute minor actinides (though if you do have that information I know some places that are hiring). But you can go far in making nuclear fuel recycling a national priority by showing your support at a Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) scoping meeting that DOE is holding in Washington, DC on Monday, March 19. The meeting will be at the Hotel Washington from 1pm to 5pm, though I suggest that advocates arrive no later than 12:30pm.

DOE has held seven such scoping meetings in communities that are potential hosts for GNEP facilities. In locations such as North Augusta, GA and Carlsbad, NM local supporters organized themselves and the meetings were very positive with balanced media coverage. However, in Joliett, IL nuclear opponents outnumbered supporters by about 3 to 1 and media coverage was predictably negative.

There are no potential GNEP sites in the Washington, DC area but it is still important that nuclear advocates demonstrate support of the initiative. Antinuclear groups are certain to be present and we want to ensure that the PRO-nuclear message is the dominant one!

Plus, while Congress, policymakers, and media of all stripes increasingly recognize the important contribution nuclear makes to meeting our energy and environmental goals, there remains much skepticism about advanced fuel cycle initiatives. To help overcome such skepticism I believe our leaders and the media need to see that citizens want our country to pursue a path that will better utilize natural resources and make the world cleaner and safer.

There are several things you can do to help:

  • Attend the meeting and speak as a representative of your organization.
  • Attend the meeting and speak as a private citizen. If you want help in crafting a message, please send an email to But it is also tremendously beneficial just to say something as short as “My name is John Q Public and I work in the energy industry. I support the GNEP initiative because I know nuclear energy is clean, safe, and reliable and an important part of a balanced energy mix in this country. By recycling used fuel, the GNEP initiative will encourage greater use of nuclear energy and will more efficiently use our natural resources.”
  • Attend the meeting and wear a pro-nuclear sticker.
  • If you can’t attend the meeting but would like to show your support, you can write a letter to DOE. The Federal Register Notice is here with contact information at the bottom of the first column on the second page.

Some online resources include:

1. DOE's GNEP website
2. An excellent Op-ed
3. Fact Sheet on the economic benefits of power plants to states and local communities—not exactly the same thing as GNEP facilities, but comparable.
4. Fact Sheet on preventing proliferation with a short section on GNEP
5. Policy Brief about advanced fuel cycle technologies

Speakers must sign in at the meeting no later than 12:45 pm to be assured a slot and the earlier you sign-up the better. There may be time at the end of the meeting for additional speakers, but it isn’t guaranteed. If you are representing an organization be sure to let them know at the sign-in table because they may have representatives go first.

If you plan to attend or speak or have any questions, please send an email to



    Kirk Sorensen said…
    Lisa, being pro-nuclear doesn't necessarily mean you're pro-GNEP or pro-Yucca Mountain. In fact, between me, Rod Adams, and Stewart Peterson I think we all think Yucca Mountain is a bad idea.

    I also happen to think GNEP is a pretty foolish idea--essentially the old 1950s vision of sodium-fast-breeders resurrected for the purposes of consuming transuranics from all the LWRs.

    Except now they're not fast-breeders, they're fast burners, and their only purpose is to allow LWRs to keep producing transuranics. Ask the utilities if they want to be saddled with the cost burden of a new sodium-fast-burner for every 4-5 LWRs they build. I'm pretty sure I know what the answer is.

    The real answer is for future reactors to either be fast-spectrum reactors that run off of U-238/Pu-239 as their basic fissile/fertile combination or to build thermal-spectrum reactors that run off of Th-232/U-233 as their basic fuel. I advocate the latter but can respect the former--at least it's a closed fuel cycle.

    But to pretend that GNEP and its world of fast-burner/LWRs is a real solution to the nuclear fuel cycle is not viable. I don't think NEI should support GNEP, and I'll bet if you asked the utilities who operate LWRs or the vendors who want to build LWRs they would agree that the GNEP vision will represent a tremendous financial burden on the nuclear industry.
    Rod Adams said…
    I am no so certain that GNEP has focused on any particular technology. From my understanding, the project is still investigating various ways to recycle used fuel.

    In addition to Kirk's suggestions, there is also a possibility of using epithermal converter reactors that run on a variety of different actinide combinations. As long as something close to one fissile atom is created for every fissile atom that is fissioned, the available fuel will last a very long time, and the inventory of products will remain manageable.

    As we all should know - maintaining waste materials on the site of an operating reactor complex is a VERY small portion of the overall cost of operation.

    In my less than humble opinion, that leads to a very logical conclusion - keep operating reactors on all existing sites in perpetuity. If necessary due to old age - replace the plant. There is NO indication that people are going to stop needing electricity any time in the foreseeable future and no reason to plan for that eventuality.
    Kirk and Rod,

    I certainly respect your opinions and I don't think you are not pro-nuclear if you don't support GNEP.

    In fact, the scoping meetings are for DOE to collect citizens' thoughts and questions, so, by all means, come to the meeting or write a letter and let your views be heard!

    Personally, I don't think GNEP is the be-all end-all but it does mean we are finally doing something constructive in terms of closing the fuel cycle.

    Brian Mays said…
    Good answer, Lisa.

    Rod - As usual, you bring up some very good points. Thank you. I agree with what you have to say.

    Kirk - I understand your passion for your preferred choice of technology. You are right in that if things were done "The Right Way"(TM), then we would be using the fuel cycles that you have mentioned. Nevertheless, we must face reality. The next generation of plants will be LWR's. They are already being built, thank goodness. The world needs them now.
    Kirk Sorensen said…
    Kirk - I understand your passion for your preferred choice of technology. You are right in that if things were done "The Right Way"(TM), then we would be using the fuel cycles that you have mentioned. Nevertheless, we must face reality. The next generation of plants will be LWR's. They are already being built, thank goodness. The world needs them now.

    Hi Brian--not trying to be a pest, but it's the here-and-now that concerns me about GNEP. My personal opinions on thorium are immaterial--anyone is free to look up capture-to-fission cross-sections for U-233 in the thermal spectrum, and neutrons per absorption, and all the other basic attributes that enable thorium breeding in the thermal spectrum.

    But about the GNEP fast burner scenario--how does the nuclear industry imagine that this will all play out? Do they anticipate that industry will pay for the construction of x number of reprocessing plants per LWR, and y number of fast burners per LWR, and z number of fuel fabrication plants per fast burner?

    If so, then how would this be paid for? Would the money be expected from the utilities that operate the reactors, or the vendors that produce the reactors? Would old plants be "grandfathered" in the sense that they didn't have to destroy their transuranic waste in fast-burners, but new plants would?

    Would money from the Waste Disposal fund be used to pay for the fast burners? Would it then be subtracted from funds that would be spent to commission Yucca Mountain?

    Suppose reactors are introduced whose fuel form is incompatible with UREX...would they have to pay extra waste disposal taxes because their transuranics could not be treated easily? (I'm talking about pebble-bed reactors here)

    If a reactor were built like the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor that didn't produce transuranics, would it be exempted from any type of GNEP tax? Would it be exempted from the Waste Disposal fund tax because its waste would not require a Yucca Mountain?

    GNEP appears to be built for one kind of reactor--the LWR. I can understand that, since LWRs form the vast majority of our nuclear fleet. But I think there's a lot of questions about how GNEP and its approach to "closing" the fuel cycle would ultimately be implemented.

    I think NEI should think long and hard about these questions, and consult with the vendors and utilities that make up the bulk of your constituency, before you get on the GNEP bandwagon and say that this is a good idea.
    Anonymous said…
    At some point down the road, we're going to need fast spectrum reactors, particularly as our inventory of neptunium and transplutonium actinides increases.

    I'm not sure what the best technology will prove to be the best, but clearly whatever fast spectrum reactor is built, it's going to take both time and money.

    As for the money - how about we institute a carbon tax, internationally?

    Fast breeders basically didn't work because of economics - uranium was cheap. I think their are many upper limits to how high uranium can go, but even if the price of uranium doesn't drive the matter, the consumption of long-lived actinides, neptunium and americium in particular recommends itself. I don't think it's either/or breeding/burning. I just think there are going to be missions for fast reactors.

    I know that there are a lot of ways of burning higher actinides in light water reactors, but at the end of the day we will not get the best actinide use without a fast spectrum. Ultimately the curium, and maybe some californium, are going to clog up the works.

    Kirk Sorensen said…
    Fast breeders basically didn't work because of economics - uranium was cheap.

    So what happens when the "full-cost" of dealing with transuranics has to be "internalized" by LWRs?

    Right now, they pay the Waste Disposal fee of 1 mill/kWh, supposedly to put spent fuel in Yucca Mountain.

    GNEP is being proposed because the politicians see clearly that even if Yucca Mountain is opened, it won't be enough to hold future spent fuel waste. Opening a second Yucca is considered politically impossible.

    So GNEP has been sold as the way to continue LWR operation without another Yucca. But who pays for the fast-burners, reprocessing plants, and fuel fabrication plants and how does that change LWR economics?

    A reactor that closes the fuel cycle all by itself will have an economic advantage in this scenario.
    Anonymous said…
    The technology available today to do recycle and transmutation is expensive. The GNEP goal is to raise the cost of nuclear electricity by less than 10%. That works out to about 0.5 cents per kilowatt hour, or up to a factor of 5 increase in the fee charged to utilities for the Nuclear Waste Fund. That's a lot. While we know that advanced fuel cycles are the correct future direction, we need to do more work to improve the technology before we rush to deploy it. This is the main issue with GNEP, it has moved unnecessarily fast to solve a long-term problem, and thus is likely to make nuclear energy more expensive and reduce the number of new reactors that we build in the near term.
    Anonymous said…

    I think the best way to pay for recycling plants and new types of reactors is to institute a tax on energy based on external costs.

    The fund of money that is raised should be proportionally allocated to building a combinatorially optimized (internal and external costs included) infrastructure for energy.

    This would create a ton of money for new nuclear investment. Nuclear wins in any scenario that includes both external and internal cost.

    Marshall Cohen said…
    Don't get lost right now in the details here. This is a political matter, being able to show support for closing theh fuel cycle and demonstrating to the Congress and others that there are communities out there willing and interested in hosting facilities that will help lead to more nuclear energy for the US. The antis will be out in force to try and kill this, and whether you call it GNEP, or someth8ng else, the Hill will be watching and needs to get a message that this is an important issue, one that needs a chance to develop and lead to good answers for closing the fuel cycle.

    Marshall Cohen
    Kirk Sorensen said…
    Don't get lost right now in the details here.

    I've been told this a lot over the years, on a variety of different technological developments. I raise my hand early in the implementation and bring up concerns, and am then told to sit down, be quiet, and support the big picture. Later on everything will get straightened out.

    It has yet to happen.

    Typically, once a program has attained some degree of political support, those who conceived it take that political support as tacit endorsement of their technical scheme by the power-brokers, who themselves are assuming that those who proposed the technical path know what they're doing and have worked everything out.

    Later on, the whole thing comes crashing down due to technical immaturity and a poor consideration of the implications of the technical path. Then all support to go forward in that technical direction is lost, and the power-brokers lose interest and turn their attention to other matters.

    I've seen this scenario play itself out again...and again...and again.

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