Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Despite Critics DOE Touts GNEP On European & Central Asia Tour

Nov 13: U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman delivered remarks at the 20th World Energy Congress Ministerial Forum, highlighting the importance of robust investments in a diversity of energy supplies and breakthrough technologies to meet growing global demand for energy. While in Rome, Secretary Bodman welcomed Italy to the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), an international framework that DOE says is "aimed at expanding nuclear power worldwide while responsibly managing nuclear waste and reducing proliferation risks." Italy is the most recent nation to sign the GNEP Statement of Principles, which 16 nations joined in September at the Partnership’s second Ministerial in Vienna, Austria.

The GNEP program has recently come under scrutiny of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), National Research Council (NRC) that said the research and development component of the GNEP should not go forward at its current pace [
See WIMS 10/30/07]. Despite the NAS concerns, Secretary Bodman said, “By becoming a member of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, Italy is joining a growing group of nations committed to developing solutions to power a clean, safe and reliable energy future. To increase global energy security, producing and consuming nations alike must make robust investments in a diversity of energy sources, accelerate efforts to increase energy efficiency, and rapidly deploy advanced clean energy technologies to meet growing energy demand and sustain economic growth.”

In signing the GNEP Principles, Italy joins China, France, Japan, Russia and the United States, who are original GNEP partners, as well as Australia, Bulgaria, Ghana, Hungary, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, and Ukraine in efforts to address the prospects of expanding the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including enhanced safeguards, international fuel service frameworks, and advanced technologies. DOE indicates that GNEP seeks to develop worldwide consensus on enabling expanded use of clean, safe, and affordable nuclear energy to meet growing electricity demand. GNEP proposes a nuclear fuel cycle that enhances energy security, while promoting non-proliferation.

Italy is the first stop in Secretary Bodman’s five-nation visit to Europe and Central Asia. Later in the week, he will travel to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan to address the Turkmenistan Industrial Oil and Gas Exhibit (TIOGE) and meet with the President and Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan. Following his visit to Turkmenistan, he will travel to Turkey to highlight the importance of expanding and securing oil and gas infrastructure and to Greece to celebrate the opening of the Turkey-Greece Inter-connector pipeline, which will be a critical link between the gas suppliers of central Asia and the consumers of Europe. He will conclude his trip in London, England where he is expected to hold bilateral meetings with senior English officials and deliver remarks to U.S. and British business leaders.

The GNEP program has also been criticized by others. On June 14, 2007, the Keystone Center released a report showing areas of agreement from a diverse group of 27 stakeholders associated with the nuclear industry, environmental groups, consumer advocates, government regulators, consultants, and academics. On the issue of the GNEP the report concluded, "that critical elements of the program are unlikely to succeed" [
See WIMS 6/18/07]. On November 2, 2007, more than 40 national and local environmental, science and national security organizations sent a letter to Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Pete Domenici (R-NM), urging them to eliminate funding for the GNEP plan for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel. The program, they wrote, "undermines U.S. nonproliferation policy, would cost taxpayers $100 billion or more, and … [would] not solve the nuclear waste problem."

Simultaneously, the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Chaired by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), held a hearing today (November 14, 2007), to receive testimony on GNEP as it relates to U.S. policy on nuclear fuel management. Those testifying at the hearing included: the Department of Energy; the Congressional Budget Office; Los Alamos National Laboratory; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Harvard University Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; and The Boston Consulting Group.

DOE testified that, "GNEP is crucial to developing an effective and durable waste management strategy in the United States, aswell as around the world. To that end, GNEP is completely compatible with our near-term effort to license and open the waste repository at Yucca Mountain."

CBO testified that, "The cost of directly disposing of spent nuclear fuel is less than the cost of reprocessing it..." CBO said that one study by the Boston Consulting Group estimates that reprocessing spent nuclear fuel would cost $585 per kilogram and another study, by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government indicates a cost about $1,300 per kilogram -- or more than twice as much as direct disposal. CBO concludes that for the roughly 2,200 metric tons of spent fuel produced each year in the United States, the reprocessing alternative would be likely to cost at least $5 billion more in present-value terms than the direct-disposal alternative over the life of a reprocessing plant.

Matthew Bunn of the Belfer Center testified that, "Some elements of GNEP could make important contributions to reducing proliferation risks. Unfortunately, GNEP’s heavy focus on building a commercial-scale reprocessing plant in the near term would, if accepted, increase proliferation risks rather than decreasing them...The recent National Academy of Sciences review has provided an excellent discussion of just how premature it would be to build commercial-scale facilities now, unanimously recommending against proceeding with a GNEP program focused on near-term large-scale construction." Neil Todreas of MIT testified, "I believe such an R&D program to evaluate the potential of nuclear energy systems operating in the closed fuel cycle is an important national undertaking."

Access a release from DOE (click here). Access the GNEP website for further details (click here). Access a release from the Union of Concerned Scientists on the letter to Senators (click here). Access the Senate hearing website for links to all testimony (click here). [*Energy, *Haz/Nuclear]