Its decades of experience with nuclear fuel and plutonium make Savannah River Site a fitting place to test President Bush's plans to expand nuclear energy, a former Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman said Thursday.
Nils Diaz, who stepped down from the NRC in June, toured SRS on Thursday before delivering a speech before Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness about the expansion of nuclear energy.
"People ask me is the nuclear renaissance real," Dr. Diaz said during an interview before his speech. "My answer is yes, it is real. It is here, not only in this country but abroad."
He's fielding such questions because after decades without licensing a new nuclear reactor, several energy companies are preparing applications to build new ones, including one at Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro.
President Bush fueled debate about nuclear expansion earlier this year when he introduced plans for his Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. The thrust of his proposal is recycling nuclear fuel for use in advanced reactors, a process that would leave far less waste than current reactors.
Another advantage, Dr. Diaz said, is what waste is left behind would stay radioactive for hundreds of years, not thousands like the waste from current reactors.
"We know how to store any kind of substance for hundreds of years, even thousands of years," he said. "What we might not be able to predict is millions of years. GNEP takes care of that."
The Department of Energy has proposed spending $250 million this year to study the recycling technology that the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership hinges on. Applications have been filed by separate groups that want to test the advanced nuclear recycling at SRS.
The site has recycled fuel from its own reactors for decades. It also has infrastructure and security in its favor, Dr. Diaz said.
"That's a natural asset," he said.
Substantive debate on investing in advanced nuclear technology will start in Congress after next week's elections, he said.
With countries such as China and India ready to expand, supplies of uranium could be in short supply down the road.
"Eventually, we're going to find out we'll actually need to use recycled fuel," Dr. Diaz said.
Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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