Friday, March 9, 2007

Wamp says no to GNEP at Oak Ridge

Like the State's civil war volunteers, Wamp doesn't mind drawing a line in the sand

Rep. Zack Wamp, (R-Tn) said March 3rd he's opposed to any proposals that would bring the nation's spent nuclear fuel to Oak Ridge for processing. "I want waste leaving here, not coming here," Wamp said during a brief meeting with the news media at the Y-12 National Security Complex.

"Once we modernized our facilities (in Oak Ridge) and moved away from the Manhattan Project era, we do not want waste. We do not want to process waste. We do not want waste coming in. We want waste leaving Oak Ridge,"

Wamp's opposition to GNEP took some Oak Ridge residents by surprise. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Wamp is known as a strong nuclear advocate, and some Oak Ridge officials have suggested that he's taking the anti-GNEP stance because he doesn't want the waste issue "around his neck" if he decides to run for governor. If so he wouldn't be the first candidate for governor to run for cover when it comes to dealing with nuclear waste issues.

Wamp is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee and might have something to say about funding for GNEP in addition to opposing the placement of its nuclear plants in Tennessee. Why he might leave Congress and run for a state office is another question.

Wamp might not need GNEP to generate high paying nuclear industry jobs. Last January the Washington Post reported the Tennessee Valley Authority will submit applications to build two new nuclear reactors under the government's streamlined licensing process and restart its oldest reactor after a 22-year shutdown at Browns Ferry, TVA officials told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The public utility also plans to decide by August whether to spend up to $2 billion to complete the unfinished Unit 2 reactor at Watts Bar Nuclear Plant.

The Post noted that Wamp has strong support on the Senate side of the Congress. "Nuclear power is almost the only answer for clean electricity to meet our growing needs," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tn), who is co-chairman of the TVA Congressional Caucus and a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "When I look at all of the options, I think nuclear (energy) is the leading technology." Even better for Wamp, Alexander agrees with him that bringing GNEP nuclear reprocessing plants to Oak Ridge isn't a hot idea with the voters in Tennessee.

According to Business Week, Alexander said the amount of waste coming to Oak Ridge for reprocessing could be limited "as part of the arrangement that is made with the government" if the city is selected. "Oak Ridge or any other site doesn't have to be the site for waste from all over the country," he said. The former Tennessee governor emphasizes he has strong reasons for opposition to GNEP.

"Oak Ridge was burned during the Cold War and before the Cold War by assurances that it was safe to handle dangerous materials, and many people got sick from it. So I think before Oak Ridge takes this step, the community will want to assure itself of exactly what it is getting into."

It should be noted that Alexander supports GNEP, He just doesn't want the program's reprocessing plants in his home state.

What it boils down to is that Wamp and Alexander are OK with new nuclear energy plants being built in Tennessee but they don't want their state to shoulder the burden of the occupational and environmental risks of new nuclear waste processing plants.

Wamp has been an advocate for sick nuclear workers seeking compensation from the government for illnesses connected to their work. He's been a critic of government bureaucracy that has slowed the process of paying these claims. In May 2006 Wamp took the unusual step of testifying before another House Committee to make his point.

None of this means Wamp has a knee jerk opposition to nuclear programs at Oak Ridge. On March 5th he told the news media he is bullish on the Y-12 plant at Oak Ridge. The plant makes uranium fuel for US Navy nuclear powered ships. More colorfully, it describes itself as the “Fort Knox” for highly enriched uranium. It oversees the management and storage of special nuclear materials as weapons are retired from the national stockpile or returned for dismantlement under strategic arms reduction treaties.

It appears that new nuclear energy plants and the safe, long term storage of highly enriched uranium sound a lot more like a sure thing to Zack Wamp than GNEP. With the state's US Senator in the shotgun seat at Wamp's side, it could be the pursuit of GNEP in Tennessee is in for a rough ride.

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