Monday, October 29, 2007

NAS - GNEP should be scaled back

Ambitious program is said to be sidelining important reactor R&D

The Associated Press reports that the National Academy of Sciences wants President Bush to abandon an ambitious plan to resume nuclear waste reprocessing. A panel of scientists said GNEP, has not been adequately peer reviewed and is betting on reprocessing technology that isn't proven. The report also said GNEP research is taking money and focus away from other nuclear research programs.

In response Dennis Spurgeon, the DOE official in charge of the program, said committee conclusions represented "a misconception of the (GNEP) program" and that the department "fully recognizes the complexity and time needed. We are talking about something that will, in fact, take decades to develop."

GNEP has been criticized by nuclear nonproliferation activists and has received a hostile reception in Congress, especially in the House,which has refused to provide the short-term funding the Energy Department has requested. The administration asked for $395 million for the program this year, but will likely get $167 million.

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The GNEP program is expected to cost billions of dollars over several decades and includes construction of reprocessing plants and next-generation "fast-burn" reactors to burn some of the processed waste.

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The National Research Council scientists, who were asked by Congress to examine the Energy Department's nuclear research priorities, said that the GNEP program is taking away funding for a program, called "Nuclear Power 2010" to help promote the construction of new commercial nuclear power plants.

The panel said DOE should put greater emphasis on that program to promote design and engineering work for a new generation of light water reactors and help the NRC move promptly to license new power reactors, said the science panel.

The panel seems to have missed the point that the NRC's reviews of new reactors is mostly funded by industry fees. However, the committee's reports also mentions that GNEP funding requests have put a lower priority on the "Next Generation Nuclear Plant" or NGNP. However, in FY2008, if Congress ever passes an Energy Appropriation bill, that program is slated to get increased funding.

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Full text of the report and a briefing for download as a PDF file are here. The brief is worth reading as it has some interesting insights into the realities of nuclear R&D as well as the challenges faced by various parts of the government involved in current projects.

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