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Memo to the President-Elect (Part 2)

A clear and present need for nuclear energy expansion.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2008

their LWR plants, and that those costs remain in the best interests of stakeholders. As nuclear power plants operate beyond their original license period, these costs likely will increase. Operators will need accurately to predict these costs in order to make sound business decisions regarding continued long-term plant operation. To be able to make these determinations, the nuclear industry will need to conduct research into the effects of aging on plants. The results of such research will determine whether operators can make a technically justified case when applying for subsequent license-renewal periods. Further, to support the regulatory reviews of these potential applications, the NRC also needs to conduct confirmatory and over-the-horizon research into these areas, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) needs to work with the domestic industry to support, where appropriate, collaborative efforts to keep the existing fleet of light-water reactors (LWR) safely operating.

The NRC and DOE began efforts in this area under the George W. Bush administration. The Obama administration can show its continued support of this activity through increased funding for organizations that are leading this work. Additionally, the administration can assert leadership by proposing enabling legislation to encourage long-term safe operation of these vital national assets, and by actively engaging our allies in developing a cooperative program to help ensure aging reactors around the world are appropriately inspected, maintained, and operated. Such action is necessary to assure that operations can be safely and securely continued into the long-term future, 2 since, as former NRC Chairman Nils Diaz often said, “an accident anywhere is an accident everywhere.”

Close the Fuel Cycle

The second Bush Administration initiated an innovative multilateral program, the Global Nuclear Energy Program (GNEP), 3 which would support development of proliferation-resistant technologies to recycle nuclear fuel, and reduce waste by supplying fuel and nuclear services to developed and developing nations. These nations in turn would commit to refrain from developing enrichment and recycling technologies of their own. GNEP also includes the development and construction of Advanced Burner Reactors (ABRs), which would be designed to produce electricity and process heat while transmutating previously-burned fuel into less reactive isotopes.

U.S. federal policy always has been that nuclear energy should be utilized in a manner worldwide that is safe, secure, and proliferation-resistant—and that policy should continue. Encouraging others, especially developing nations, to adhere to the letter and spirit of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 4—and doing so publicly and transparently—will bolster America’s stature in this area. Further, actively working with developing nations as equal partners will help the United States influence nuclear-energy activities worldwide.

GNEP’s success, however, hinges on resolving several significant issues. First, non-proliferation should be permanently linked with assurance of supplies and services throughout the nuclear-fuel cycle to any country who joins GNEP. Second, participants in the GNEP shouldn’t suffer exclusion from the program because of other conflicts with the United States, involving such issues as human-rights offenses, support for terrorism or lawlessness, or even direct military conflict. Finally, GNEP should appropriately be funded by all participants.

The Obama Administration should continue to support a version