The House Appropriations subcommittee on Energy and Water approved an increase in Energy Department spending to continue work on Yucca Mountain. The $494.7 million budget request was approved for the fiscal year 2009 despite much talk that Yucca Mountain will never be opened. As Heritage scholar Jack Spencer stresses, Yucca Mountain remains critical to used nuclear fuel management in the United States. The ball continues to roll in the right direction for Yucca, as the funding approval came just weeks after The Department of Energy submitted the license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to commence construction the geologic repository.
The committee also took the right approach on nuclear fuel recycling. It limited Global Nuclear Energy Partnership used nuclear fuel management funding to $120 million for research and development activities under the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative. Instead of fully developing a government-driven fuel recycling strategy, the Department of Energy should focus on the basic R & D that legitimately falls under the purview of federal government research.
This neither diminishes the importance of used fuel recycling nor the broader objectives of the Administration’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). Recycling used nuclear fuel will, without question, be critical to spent fuel management should a nuclear renaissance unfold over the next decades. And there is virtually no more important issue than managing the growth of nuclear power around the world as more nations look to nuclear energy to help solve their energy problems. GNEP helps solve both problems.
It does question, however, the current approach, which places too much authority for waste management in the Department of Energy as opposed to in the private sector.
Rather than having the government responsible for building a reprocessing plant, the decision would best be made by the private sector. After all, is there a point in building a reprocessing plant when a new reactor hasn’t been built in more than thirty years? That’s not to say used fuel reprocessing should not play a role in America’s nuclear portfolio; however, the private sector will best determine whether or not reprocessing is economically rational.