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More unresolved, nuclear-energy problems

Strategists for “real wealth” are touting uranium as the new gold mine for Wall Street investing.
The U.S. has to import 90 percent of it to run its fleet of nuclear power plants, nearly half of the supply coming from Soviet-era warheads for which a 1993 agreement with Russia is about to expire. The remaining uranium comes from mined and processed ore, in short supply since the richest mine sites were exploited long ago.
With “a 50-million-pound shortfall worldwide,” Market-Watch firms tell us, prices could go through the roof, making uranium stock “one of the speculative opportunities of the decade.”
Congress’ new promotion of nuclear power also is likely to have caught investors’ eyes.
After having made electricity for a couple of years, uranium fuel rods are lethal radioactive waste from which people must be shielded for thousands of years. U.S. reactors produce 2,000 tons of it every year, stored onsite in pools or hardened casks since a safe place to sequester it has not yet been found.
With rising fuel costs and the unresolved waste problem plaguing the industry, a dream keeps surfacing to “recycle” or “reprocess” the spent fuel waste.
This involves a complex chemical process that separates out uranium, plutonium, and other highly radioactive products. Reprocessing and its result, uranium-based new fuel, are not currently used in the U.S.
President Ford, who recognized the risk for nuclear-weapons proliferation, halted it in 1976, later to be terminated by President Carter.
President Bush in 2005 sought to reactivate and federally facilitate spent-fuel reprocessing as part of proposals for a Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, under which developing and other interested countries would be “provided with reactors [and] related nuclear services,” through the U.S.
In its “Roadmap” bill introduced in March, Congress would prescribe a resumption of “the recycling of spent nuclear fuel.” It would require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, within two years, to complete the rule-making for licensing of such “recycling” facilities and, further, “prohibit the President from blocking or hindering fuel recycling activities.”
In June, the NRC announced an information-gathering effort to develop a foundation for potential future “rulemaking on spent nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities.”
It is seeking public input: ([email protected]), Docket ID NRC-2010-0267 to be identified in the subject line.
Among a host of serious problems with the innocuous-sounding “recycling” of spent reactor fuel are that it leaves hugely more radioactive waste than before, that the “fast-burner” reactors to use the new fuel don’t exist, and that it would raise the cost of nuclear-powered electricity by at least 20 percent, as revealed in Congressional testimony on its economics.