Senator Domenici on "A New Nuclear Paradigm"
At the inaugural symposium of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) spoke on "A New Nuclear Paradigm." Excerpts from the text of his October 31 speech follow:
"Earlier this week, I spent substantial time on the subjects of nuclear non-proliferation, the proposed Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, nuclear waste policies, and nuclear weapons design issues.... During the week before, I spent time on the question of whether or not a 1,200 foot road should be built in a National Monument.... [F]or every person who attended the nuclear hearings, 50 attended the road hearings.... Strategic national issues just don't command a large audience."
"When it comes to energy, we have a serious, strategic problem.... The United States currently produces and imports raw energy resources worth over $150 billion per year. Approximately $50 billion of that is imported oil or natural gas."
"...[W]hile we debate defense policy every year, we don't debate energy policy, even though it already costs us twice as much as our defense."
"Today, it is extraordinarily difficult to conduct a debate on nuclear issues. Usually, the only thing produced is nasty political fallout.... I am going to bring back to the market place of ideas a more forthright discussion of nuclear policy."
"First, we need to recognize that the premises underpinning some of our nuclear policy decisions are wrong. In 1977, President Carter halted all U.S. efforts to reprocess spent nuclear fuel and develop mixed-oxide fuel (MOX) for our civilian reactors on the grounds that the plutonium could be diverted.... He argued that the United States should halt its reprocessing program as an example to other countries in the hope that they would follow suit.
"The premise of the decision was wrong. Other countries do not follow the example of the United States if we make a decision that other countries view as economically or technically unsound. France, Great Britain, Japan, and Russia all now have MOX fuel programs.... This failure to address an incorrect premise has harmed our efforts to deal with spent nuclear fuel and the disposition of excess weapons material, as well as our ability to influence international reactor issues.
"I'll cite another example. We regulate exposure to low levels of radiation using a so-called linear no-threshold' model, the premise of which is that there is no safe' level of exposure."
"On the other hand, many scientists think that living cells...have adapted such that low levels of radiation cause very little if any harm."
"The truth is important.... In this year's Energy and Water Appropriations Act, we initiated a ten year program to understand how radiation affects genomes and cells.... For the first time, we will develop radiation protection standards that are based on actual risk."
"I've talked about bad past decisions that haunt us today. Now I want to talk about decisions we need to make today."
"The President has outlined a program to stabilize the U.S. production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at 1990 levels by some time between 2008 and 2012.... What the President should have said is that WE NEED NUCLEAR ENERGY TO MEET HIS GOAL.... Our electric utilities' emissions of those greenhouse gases were 25 percent lower than they would have been if fossil fuels had been used instead of nuclear energy."
"An excellent report by Dr. John Holdren for the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology [PCAST], calls for a sharply enhanced national effort. It urges a properly focused R&D effort to see if the problems plaguing fission energy can be overcome -- economics, safety, waste, and proliferation.'"
"For now, let me turn from nuclear power to nuclear weapons issues."
"Earlier I discussed the need to revisit some incorrect premises that caused us to make bad decisions in the past. I said that one of them, regarding reprocessing and MOX fuel, is hamstringing our efforts to permanently dismantle nuclear weapons."
"Technical solutions exist. Pits can be transformed into non-weapons shapes and weapon material can be burned in reactors as MOX fuel, which by the way is what the National Academy of Sciences has recommended.... MOX IS the best technical solution."
"I said earlier that I would not advocate increased use of nuclear energy and ignore the nuclear waste problem... Our decision to ban reprocessing forced us to a repository solution. Meanwhile, many other nations think it is dumb to just bury the energy-rich spent fuel and are reprocessing.... I propose we go somewhere between reprocessing and permanent disposal by using interim storage to keep our options open."
"Let me highlight one attractive option. A group from several of our largest companies, using technologies developed at three of our national laboratories and from Russian institutes and their nuclear navy, discussed with me an approach to use that waste for electrical generation. They use an accelerator, not a reactor, so there is never any critical assembly. There is minimal processing, but carefully done so that weapons-grade materials are never separated out and so that international verification can be used. And when they get done, only a little material goes into a repository - but now the half lives are changed so that it's a hazard for perhaps 300 years - a far cry from 100,000 years.... This approach, called Accelerator Transmutation of Waste, is an area I want to see investigated aggressively."
"We are realizing some of the benefits of nuclear technologies today, but only a fraction of what we could realize.... [W]e aren't tapping the full potential of the nucleus for additional benefits. In the process, we are short-changing our citizens."
"While some may continue to lament that the nuclear genie is out of his proverbial bottle, I'm ready to focus on harnessing that genie as effectively and fully as possible, for the largest set of benefits for our citizens."