Give input now on energy future

The U.S. Department of Energy wants your input on a draft environmental study of better ways to manage the spent nuclear fuel generated by the nuclear power industry.

DOE is holding public hearings around the country over the next four weeks to take comment on the Draft Global Nuclear Energy Partnership Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. A hearing will be held on Thursday, Dec. 4, at 7 p.m. in the Aiken Technical College Amphitheater.

Nuclear power currently provides 70 percent of the emission-free electricity generated in this country. With concern growing over how to meet rising energy demands without increasing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted, DOE believes increasing the amount of nuclear power generated in this country is one potential solution.

But many people are concerned about how to best manage the spent nuclear fuel that is generated by the commercial power industry. The used fuel is typically stored at power plant sites, either in water-filled pools, or in shielded dry storage.

SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL is both thermally hot and highly radioactive when it comes out of the reactor. Ultimately, the spent fuel will be sent to a permanent repository for disposal under current U.S. policy. DOE believes, however, there are more efficient approaches to managing this used fuel that maximize the amount of energy recovered from the fuel while ultimately reducing the amount of waste material that has to be disposed in a repository.

The GNEP draft environmental impact statement evaluates various proposals for better managing that fuel, including "closed fuel cycles." Under a closed fuel cycle, spent fuel would be processed and the usable material (energy-bearing material that can be used in a nuclear reactor) would be recovered and reused in new reactor fuel.

DOE supports closing the fuel cycle because it makes more efficient use of fuel materials, reduces the volume and dangerous characteristics of waste that must be disposed in a repository, and makes it easier to manage the components of the fuel that could be diverted for use in a nuclear weapon.

In 2006, DOE held public meetings to get input on the range of alternatives the draft PEIS should assess, and what potential impacts should be considered. As a result of the input, DOE has decided not to make any decisions on siting or construction of new facilities to support the GNEP program.

THAT MEANS THIS PEIS will no longer provide the analysis of sites to build an advanced recycle reactor, a nuclear fuel recycling center, or an advanced fuel cycle facility. Once the PEIS is completed, a decision could be made on whether to close the nuclear fuel cycle.

DOE invites your review and input on the draft PEIS. You can make your comments at the public hearing in your area; on the Internet at www.regulations.gov; by fax at 866-645-7807; or by mail, to Mr. Frank Schwartz, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Nuclear Energy-NE-5, 1000 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, D.C., 20585.

Comments received by Dec. 16 will be addressed in the final PEIS. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the best way to support the expansion of clean, safe and emissions-free nuclear power in the United States.

(The writer is assistant secretary for nuclear energy for the U.S. Department of Energy.)

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