.News Update 1/02/09

GNEP Public Comment Period Extended into March 2009

January 2, 2009

The Department of Energy (DOE) originally released the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) draft Environmental Impact Statement in October of 2008 for a 60-day public comment period, which included 13 hearings across the country. At the urging of the public, DOE has extended the comment period 90 days, until March 16, 2009.

GNEP is a Bush administration proposal to expand the use of nuclear energy worldwide, while endeavoring to deal with the proliferation issues and environmental impacts of such a plan. A key component of the initiative involves managing waste disposal through the use of dangerous reprocessing technologies.

Reprocessing, which is referred to in the GNEP proposal as "recycling," is the extraction of weapons-usable plutonium from high-level nuclear waste. Not only does the process involve enormous expense, but it also has disastrous environmental impacts and the technology encourages nuclear proliferation. U.S. Representative John Spratt, of South Carolina, said, "In truth, (reprocessing) develops more plutonium-239, which is weapons-ready and doesn't have the disadvantage of being so radioactive that it can't be handled." The risk of proliferation was the reason that the U.S. halted reprocessing during the Carter administration.

A major reprocessing site during the Cold War, the Savannah River Site outside of Aiken, South Carolina, is still facing the environmental repercussions of reprocessing. The process of separating plutonium and uranium out of used nuclear fuel and reusing it generates new waste of its own. Over 30 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste are now stored at the Savannah River Site. Plutonium has been found in the groundwater and 9 of the 49 storage tanks have leaked.

Waste storage is a huge problem with reprocessing. Proponents of reprocessing invoke its successful use in Europe as an argument for the process, but countries such as the United Kingdom and Japan are phasing out the use of reprocessing due to lack of storage space. Using this technology, the waste is reused but not reduced, just moved around. The costs are also sky-high, totaling around $700 billion. Robert Alvarez, a former DOE official, said, "Recycling would generate more radioactive waste, create a proliferation risk, and cost at least as much as the financial bailout package for banks."

The problems of increased storage space for waste, the risk of proliferation and enormous costs all point to the fact that GNEP is not a valid solution to energy problems. Tom Clements, of Friends of the Earth, noted, "The whole thing is just one big scam. It's not recycling at all. It just makes the waste problem a lot worse because it creates liquid waste streams. The end result of reprocessing is a waste of a lot of money and the creation of an environmental nightmare at every facility where it's proceeded."

***New Scheduled Public Hearing: DOE announces an additional public hearing on the Draft GNEP PEIS to be held on January 12, 2009, at the Bob Ruud Community Center, 150 North Highway 160 in the Town of Pahrump in Nye County, NV. An Open House will begin at 6 p.m., during which DOE officials will be available to discuss the Draft GNEP PEIS and answer questions. The public hearing will begin at 7 p.m. with a presentation by a DOE official followed by the receipt of oral comments from interested members of the public. For additional information, see: frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=2008_register&docid=fr24de08-53.pdf

The GNEP public comment period is open until March 16, 2009. Questions and requests for additional information or copies of the GNEP document can be directed to Mr. Francis Schwartz, GNEP PEIS Document Manager, Office of Nuclear Energy (NE-5), U.S. Department of Energy, 1000 Independence Avenue SW, Washington D.C. 20585, or by telephone at 1-866-645-7803 or by fax at 866-489-1891. Comments can also be submitted via the internet at www.regulations.gov. Please mark all correspondence "Draft GNEP PEIS Comments."

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