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The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership: A Threat to Human Life and Health

February 2009

Robert Gould, M.D., Peter Wilk, M.D., and Jill M. Parillo Physicians for Social Responsibility

The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership: A Threat to Human Life and Health Summary The Bush Administration’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) would increase waste storage and proliferation concerns arising from the use and projected expansion of nuclear energy by legitimizing the use of reprocessing and enrichment technologies. GNEP is one of many fuel cycle initiatives in the global arena that aim to manage the spread of dual-use (energy and weapon) technology. GNEP plans to restart nuclear waste reprocessing in the United States and increase nuclear enrichment and reprocessing capacities abroad through the commercial use of these dual-use technologies. Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) opposes a revival of nuclear waste reprocessing in the United States or its commercialization abroad. Reprocessing threatens human health by increasing the level of radioactivity in the environment and threatens human life by increasing stockpiles of weapons-usable plutonium. The National Research Council’s Committee on Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) published seven reports since 1956 regarding radiation exposures. The latest report demonstrates that even very low levels of exposure to radiation can lead to cancer. No sustainable safe storage solutions exist for the current stockpile of more than 50,000 tons of commercially generated nuclear waste at 72 domestic sites. Reprocessing will exacerbate these problems and, surrounding communities will be at risk of exposure to low levels of radiation. Reprocessing does not recycle nuclear waste, but separates it into different waste streams and increases the total volume of nuclear waste to be disposed of by a factor of twenty or greater. The Department of Energy (DOE) proposed classifying most of this waste stream as low level radioactive waste so it might be stored in tanks rather than in an underground repository. These waste tanks can be an environmental hazard. The closed tanks at the reprocessing facility in Washington State have leaked more than one million gallons of radioactive waste into the ground near the Columbia River. GNEP’s international component expanded plans to commercialize reprocessing and enrichment technology globally. This raises great nonproliferation concerns, since these technologies are used for energy and nuclear weapon production. DOE will likely try to continue the international component of GNEP, re-framing it as a way for countries to meet and discuss safe and secure energy generation and waste storage options. Although Congress appropriated far less than DOE requested for the initiative for 2008, what was appropriated ($179 million), allows for a continuation of research and development work. PSR believes that funding for any program leading to an expansion of reprocessing should be eliminated.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS PSR and the authors wish to thank the following individuals who made contributions and provided critical review of this report:

Will Callaway, M.S. Jay Troop Laicie Olson
Molly Rauch, M.P.H.

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Contents

OVERLY AMBITIOUS GOALS FOR GNEP IN THE UNITED STATES .............. 5 RADIOACTIVE WASTE: THE THREAT TO HUMAN LIFE AND HEALTH ..... 6 REPROCESSING UNDER GNEP WILL GENERATE MORE RADIOACTIVE WASTE .......................................................................................................................... 8 CREATING MORE WASTE WITHOUT SAFE STORAGE SOLUTIONS............ 10 GNEP THREATENS TO FACILITATE NUCLEAR TERRORISM IN THE UNITED STATES ..................................................................................................... 111 GNEP THREATENS TO FACILITATE NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION ABROAD...
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