Citizen Action New Mexico
Comments on the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP)
June 4, 2007
The Department of Energy (DOE) is grossly out of touch with the public’s desire both in the United States and internationally for alternative and sustainable safe energy policies that can provide greater peace and prosperity in the world. Instead the DOE offers a program that fails to consider significant liabilities consequences of environmental, political and financial obstacles, proliferation of nuclear materials for terrorists and release of enormous quantities of radioactive poisons to the world environment. President Carter halted reprocessing in the US by executive order after India was able to build a nuclear weapon in 1974 from reprocessing “peaceful” spent fuel. North Korea has embarked on reprocessing spent fuel for nuclear weapons and recently tested a device.
Plutonium was the Greek god of the underworld. Plutonium is a profoundly dangerous carcinogen. Other deadly radioactive wastes that are released from reprocessing such as Americium-241, Iodine-129, Carbon-14, Technetium-99, Cobalt-60, Krypton-85, Strontium-90, Cesium-134,-137 have no boundaries for global travel by air and water for poisoning the planet and humanity. The toxicity of these radionuclides is measured from hundreds up to millions of years of lethality. Resuming reprocessing in the United States and other countries will increase the volumes and dispersal of deadly radioactive poisons.
Reprocessing spent nuclear fuel for plutonium nuclear reactor fuel represents a Death Energy Policy. This Death Energy Policy is being pushed on the public by the Department of Energy fanning unnecessary fears about the future unavailability of fossil fuels. Congress and the Department of Energy have the capability to just as well implement a “Manhattan Project” for development and expansion of numerous alternative energy solutions that could be funded by the plus $500,000,000,000 that will otherwise be spent on the Death Energy Policy.
The historical record for past and current reprocessing operations shows the United States, Europe, Russia and Japan have released huge quantities of radionuclides to the environment. Sellafield (UK) and La Hague (France) released a cumulative total of 1,440 Kg (250 curies) of radioactive Iodine-129 alone. That is 32 times more than the quantities released from all atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. La Hague and Sellafield’s radioactive contamination of the ocean reaches all the way to the Arctic seas contaminating fish and shellfish such as lobster. Seaweed used for fertilizer is putting radionuclides into the food chain. Childhood leukemia shows evidence of significant increase. Iodine-129 has a half-life of 16,000,000 years and can cause thyroid cancer. An accidental release from the liquid waste inventory at Sellafield could dwarf the Chernobyl accident by 50 times just for Cesium alone. Hundreds of kilos of plutonium contaminate the Irish sea.
Corrupt management can be problematic, such as at the Sellafield reprocessing facility where the reprocessed fuel was rejected for use:
…“The crisis at British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) began to emerge last September after the Independent newspaper published reports that staff at its Sellafield plant had falsified data relating to MOX fuel pellets. The Japanese, German, Swedish and Swiss governments all subsequently banned imports from Sellafield. A subsequent report by the usually tame Nuclear Installations Inspectorate was heavily critical of the Sellafield management's safety record.”
…“The end of the Cold War radically altered the demand for military plutonium. BNFL conceived of MOX fuel production at Sellafield as a means of unloading its stockpile of plutonium onto potentially lucrative markets worldwide. BNFL also attempted to court new markets in waste storage and management.
“On winning office in 1997, Labour took forward plans to sell off BNFL. Now both wings of its nuclear privatisation strategy are collapsing at once. Outside of Japan, nobody wants MOX fuel and Japan is presently unable to accept it. Moreover, waste storage at Sellafield is becoming too expensive. The facility is increasingly seen as a liability. Even without new environmental disasters, the facility's estimated decommissioning costs run to tens of billions of pounds.
“In addition, numerous reports document the spread of radiation originating in Sellafield.”
In 1957 a waste tank at the Soviet Union’s Mayak reprocessing facility near Kyshtym exploded contaminating almost 6,000 square miles. The release from this explosion was the largest in a whole series of discharges of all forms of radioactive waste to the environment in this area. The releases of radioactive poisons from Sellafield and La Hague on an annual basis equal the accidental release from the Soviet Union accident. Russian operations for reprocessing and reactor operations such as Chernobyl have been notoriously sloppy.
On September 30, 1999, the Tokai nuclear fuel plant in Japan had a criticality accident in converting uranium hexafluoride to uranium dioxide for nuclear fuel. The accident killed two workers and contaminated members of the public. The Tokai, Japan facility will be dismantled and there are $136,000,000 for 7,000 damage claims from citizens. That does not count the costs for loss of the plant.
The Department of Energy reprocessing activities at Hanford WA, Idaho National Laboratory, and Savannah River SC sites have been notable for their normal operating and accidental releases of enormous quantities of radionuclides into air, water and soil. West Valley NY was a commercial reprocessing failure and only reprocessed one year’s worth of reactor fuel and left a contaminated site with 600,000 gallons of radioactive waste.
In 1964, criticality was reached at a commercial nuclear fuel processing plant near Charlestown, Rhode Island. That plant is no longer in operation. A worker died after being exposed to 1,000 times the lethal dose of radiation when he accidentally set off the reaction by pouring liquid uranium into a tank." (San Jose Mercury News, Oct. 1, 1999).
The DOE is an abysmal failure at managing spent fuel and reprocessing wastes just for a time span of less than 70 years. There is no reason to believe that the DOE radioactive waste management performance will increase by any substantial margin. There is no magic technology that DOE possesses to prevent massive environmental contamination from reprocessing. All DOE can point to at this point in time is failed policies, failed or delayed cleanup, environmental contamination and vague promises of new technologies that do not exist and for which the costs are unknown.
Even if the DOE could somehow have zero releases and accidents from US reprocessing, the potential would greatly increase for accidents and releases from a growing international reprocessing industry. GNEP enhances the prospects for increased worldwide accidents.
A single major accident at a US reprocessing plant would probably result in the facility being closed as occurred at Three Mile Island after an accident. The result of a reprocessing accident in the US would also mean a huge loss of financial development capital in addition to any casualties or injuries. No nuclear plant has been built in the US since the TMI accident. The DOE greatly underestimates the public’s fear and panic in the face of nuclear accidents.
Citizen Action opposes the GNEP plans for reprocessing of spent fuel for numerous reasons:
Creation of massive volumes of nuclear waste
Radioactive waste contamination of Earth’s air, soil and water for millions of years
The long-term cumulative effects of environmental contamination that will result from ordinary operational releases
The long-term damage to planetary life that has already been caused and will occur in the future just from the existing reprocessing operations Excessive costs for electric consumers and taxpayers for the federal subsidies that will be committed in the designing, building, operating and environmental consequences of reprocessing facilities. Studies by Harvard and MIT and by the French and Japanese government indicate much higher costs for reprocessing than spent fuel storage.
The failure to consider the dose effects of reprocessing operations on the world population as a whole
The potential catastrophic environmental effects from accidental releases whether due to human error, equipment malfunction, explosions or terrorist activities
The long storage times for high and low level radioactive wastes and the inability of human institutions to maintain political, economic and/or environmental protection for hundreds to thousands of years
The demonstrated failure of all DOE reprocessing, and foreign reprocessing facilities to prevent the widespread contamination of air, soil and water through their operations
The encouragement of research and development of reprocessing technology in non-weapon states and the reduction of costs and acceleration of time to convert from civilian use of spent fuel to nuclear weapons production
The undermining and violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
Increased availability of commercial plutonium stocks for nuclear weapons and terrorists
The growth of an international crime network that will traffic in nuclear weapons grade materials and nuclear wastes
Larger number of nuclear waste repositories that will be necessary and the political delays and costs for siting the repositories
The uncertainty regarding the actual reprocessing technologies to be used
The availability of cheaper, safer, more viable, and proliferation free options for managing spent fuel, including but not limited to, dry storage
The placement of reprocessing facilities in the United States will be in low-income and ethnic communities least able to withstand the environmental effects and provide adequate health care to residents or emergency provisions.
Reprocessing may lead to nuclear war
Reprocessing may lead to resumed nuclear testing by nations that obtain plutonium from reprocessing operations and build nuclear weapons
The availability of non-nuclear technologies for world energy needs and the need for economic resources to be devoted to those alternative technologies
Reprocessing and the revival of nuclear economies that bring the risk of accidents and nuclear war will create a worldwide climate of destabilizing tension between nations and perpetual fear for the annihilation of entire populations, panic during accidents, relocations of peoples where catastrophic accidents may occur and deterioration of the health and genetic viability of humans
Insurance subsidies to reprocessing operators that will limit the public right to damages in the event of accidents (If it’s so safe, why won’t they insure it?)
The Final Report for the STOA Study Project on POSSIBLE TOXIC EFFECTS
FROM THE NUCLEAR REPROCESSING PLANTS AT SELLAFIELD (UK) AND CAP DE LA HAGUE (FRANCE), Mycle Schneider et al, August 2001 states:
“For nuclear waste management policies, an important issue is the degree to which dry storage may be considered a viable long-term option for managing spent fuel. Dry storage in inert gas presents relatively few theoretical or practical difficulties. The IAEA has concluded after reviewing national experiences of dry storage that it is an acceptable waste management option for the storage of spent fuel for periods of 50 to 100 years [IAEA, 1996]. By this time heat rates will have declined by about two orders of magnitude. The anticipated longevity of dry stores (50 to 100 years) is expected to exceed that of wet stores [Schneider and Mitchell, 1992a]. It is concluded that passive dry storage systems appear to be an acceptable means of managing spent nuclear fuel in the medium to long term.
“When reprocessing and dry storage are compared, large differences in costs become apparent: the former are clearly greater than the latter. US/Canadian
storage systems are less expensive than European systems: US dry storage systems for PWR fuel are estimated to be 8 to 20 times less expensive per tonne than reprocessing [Supko, 1995; Wisconsin PSC, 1994]. Dry stores are considerably less expensive to construct and to operate than wet stores: annual costs are about a factor of 4 lower. Dry stores also seem to have a much higher acceptability than any other spent fuel management option. Environmental and local groups in some countries have not opposed dry storage developments. This was evidenced by the 1987 agreement among major UK environmental groups, supported by over 40 regional and local groups, to a collective strategy of long-term on-site storage. During the 1992-1994 UK public inquiry into Scottish Nuclear’s dry storage plans [Hickman, 1994], no environmental group made representations against the plans.”
The alternatives to GNEP clearly outweigh the environmental damage and economies of GNEP.
David B. McCoy, Executive Director
Citizen Action New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87196