US steps out with global nuclear program

19 January 2007

The US Department of Energy (DoE) has announced a new strategic plan for Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) initiatives, including preparation of an environmental impact statement.

The document will assess three facilities: a fuel recycling centre including reprocessing and fuel fabrication plants, an "advanced recycling reactor" - a fast reactor which will burn the actinide-based fuel and transmute transuranic elements, and an advanced fuel cycle research facility. The DoE envisages the first two being industry-led initiatives. Some thirteen sites are under consideration for one or more of these facilities.  

GNEP is essentially a response to three problems facing the spread of peaceful nuclear energy beyond the current group of more developed countries that currently enjoy it:
  • Because uanium enrichment and used fuel reprocessing facilities could be used to produce weapons material, GNEP would see them held only by trusted 'fuel cycle nations'.
  • To ensure security of nuclear fuel supply GNEP would establish an impartial nuclear fuel bank for use by all nations that International Atomic Energy Agency inspections have established to be responsible and peaceful.
  • Using fast reactors fuelled by the actinides from used nuclear fuel would reduce volumes of radioactive waste requiring long-term storage while producing power.
The international component of GNEP means that the first fuel recycling centre and fuel fabrication facilities need to be operating by about 2020 so that fuel services can commence as an inducement for other countries not to build enrichment and reprocessing plants. There is a mid-2008 target for proceeding with these.  

GNEP involves fresh fuel supply and used fuel take-back by the USA, as well as by Japan and Russia. Other likely candidates include France and the UK. The plan also involves developing and deploying advanced proliferation-resistant power reactors appropriate for the grids of developing countries, and enhanced safeguards to prevent misuse of nuclear materials.

The USA and Japan have agreed to develop over three months a nuclear energy cooperation plan centred on GNEP and the construction of new nuclear power plants. Japan also intends to participate in DOE's FutureGen clean coal project.

Further information

Department of Energy
The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership
The GNEP Strategic Plan