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DOE Trims Nuclear Reprocessing

by Jeffrey W. Johnson
April 27, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 17

The Department of Energy announced last week the death of most of its Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), a Bush Administration effort to fast-track commercialization of nuclear spent-fuel reprocessing. The multi-billion-dollar GNEP sought to develop a closed nuclear fuel cycle and would have included construction of the world's largest nuclear fuel reprocessing facility and at least 30 new advanced nuclear reactors (C&EN, June 18, 2007, page 48). Energy Secretary Steven Chu has said during congressional hearings that he supports reprocessing, but because of proliferation concerns, more research is needed before moving on to commercialization. Congress has regularly cut GNEP's funding since it was first proposed in 2006. A 2007 report by the National Research Council urged that GNEP funds be shifted to support commercial deployment of conventional nuclear power plants. DOE says it will continue long-term, science-based R&D on the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle, while ending the near-term demonstration project. At least one part of GNEP could be salvaged: Some 20 countries have joined GNEP, and DOE says the Administration is considering options for advancing its nonproliferation and energy priorities through its participation in the international partnership.


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