In a relatively quiet move earlier this week, the Obama administration canceled plans for a large-scale nuclear fuel recycling facility in the United States. The move could signal the end of the Global Nuclear Energy Project (GNEP), an international program proposed by the Bush administration to promote the use of nuclear power and to find solutions to closing the nuclear fuel cycle with nuclear reprocessing.
The Bush administration had started to draft an environmental impact statement for GNEP, a process that would effectively open the door for the possible future construction of reprocessing plants in the U.S. But on 29 June, the Obama administration announced in the Federal Register that it was canceling that document. According to the statement, the Obama administration decided to cancel GNEP because the Department of Energy is no longer pursuing domestic commercial reprocessing, which was the primary focus of the prior administration's domestic GNEP program.
Opponents of GNEP, concerned about high costs and the risk of nuclear proliferation applauded the decision. "This decision to halt the reprocessing EIS is celebrated by those who know the technical absurdity, proliferation risks and high costs involved with pursuit of commercial reprocessing of radioactive spent nuclear fuel in the U.S.," said Tom Clements of Friends of the Earth, who also thanked Energy Secretary Chu for making the move.
Although the future of GNEP looks uncertain, especially as its budget has been slashed to zero, the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 provides $145 million for the DoE to continue to continue the research and development of proliferation-resistant fuel cycles and waste management strategies.
"So as far as we're concerned, GNEP may have gone away, but the need to recycle spent fuel in this country is more important than ever because of the government's stupid decision to close Yucca Mountain," said Danny Black, the president of Southern Carolina Alliance, a regional economic development organization that was working to bring a major nuclear fuel reprocessing facility to South Carolina.
"I think we are, as much as we can be, still optimistic," Black said. "We are even more optimistic because, at this point, there is no alternative. Without Yucca Mountain, the pressure is on the industry to do more with recycling."