WASHINGTON - January 31 - In his State of the Union speech tonight, President Bush is expected to call for more nuclear power. While he is unlikely to delve into details, his plan includes the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from U.S. power reactors- a controversial plan that will overturn 30 years of U.S. practice and make it easier for terrorists to acquire plutonium to make nuclear weapons.
Reprocessing separates the plutonium from the highly radioactive components of spent reactor fuel, so it is no longer deadly to handle. It removes the plutonium from the large and heavy spent fuel assemblies, so it is no longer impossible to steal. It puts the plutonium into forms that make it difficult to precisely measure and account for. And reprocessing just the spent fuel produced by U.S. reactors in one year would result in some 20 metric tons of plutonium-enough to build over 3,000 nuclear weapons.
While avoiding specifics, Bush may hint at reprocessing in his speech by using other terms.
For instance, if Bush uses the term "renewable" nuclear energy or "recycling," he is likely referring to reprocessing spent fuel to extract the plutonium for eventual use as new reactor fuel. Phrases such as "new, safer technologies" and "solving the nuclear waste problem" also refer to reprocessing but are disingenuous; new reprocessing technologies would still make weapon-usable materials accessible to terrorists and nations, and would change the form and increase the volume of nuclear waste, thereby kicking the waste problem down the road.
If the president is seriously interested in clean, home grown electricity he should support-instead of opposing-the Senate-passed bill to increase energy production from wind, solar, bioenergy, and geothermal sources. Unlike reprocessing, these energy technologies entail no risk of nuclear terrorism and proliferation, and would save consumers money, according to the administration's own energy economists.
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