NRDC Alert: Energy Bill Encourages Nuclear Proliferation

WASHINGTON (June 4, 2003) -- The Research and Development section of both the House and Senate energy bills contains provisions promoting nuclear fuel reprocessing and reverses three decades of U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy first established by the Ford administration.

The Senate bill (S. 14) would direct hundreds of millions of dollars to "Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative" to restart commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing and commercial recycling of weapon-usable plutonium, technologies that are known to be grossly uneconomical. The Department of Energy (DOE) is falsely claiming that a return to commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing would avoid the need to build a second geologic repository, the follow-on to Yucca Mountain. In fact, these technologies are so highly uneconomical that they will not be commercially developed in the United States. But even if they were commercialized, far from solving the nuclear waste problem, highly radioactive nuclear waste still would be produced and require disposal. More significantly, reprocessing dramatically increases the threat of nuclear proliferation, since the process recovers weapon-usable plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. (For more information about DOE's reprocessing program, click here.)

The bill also would fund a DOE international assistance program that would help non-nuclear weapons states -- some which used to have clandestine weapon programs -- to develop the capability to produce nuclear weapon-usable plutonium by helping them construct lab- and pilot-size reprocessing plants and train experts in plutonium processing, and encouraging them to reprocess nuclear fuel to recover plutonium.

In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and developments in North Korea and Iran, it is disturbing that the Bush administration has reversed decades of bipartisan U.S. nonproliferation policy by promoting the spread of plutonium separation technology.

Specific provisions in S. 14:
Title IX Research and Development, Subtitle D--Nuclear Energy
Sec. 941: Authorizes funding
Sec. 942. Nuclear Energy Research Programs, (d) Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems Initiative
Sec. 943: Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.