- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2001

Sometimes the French do get it right. In the 1970s, when OPEC sent oil prices through the roof, we were suffering long lines at the gas station and the price of gas doubled from 34 to 78 cents per gallon, the French had an idea. They chose to go almost completely nuclear for one part of their energy equation, electric generation.
France has no oil, no gas and very little coal resources, so nuclear energy seemed like the perfect solution for power generation. While protesters in the United States were trying to keep Diablo Canyon in California from being built, without which the current rolling blackouts would be much worse, the French were building nuclear power plants all over the country. The United States has 104 nuclear power plants giving us about 20 percent of our power generation, whereas the French have 59 Nuclear power plants supplying about 75 percent of their electricity. The French know how to make that much power generation by nuclear means work because they recycle their waste. Using a complex process the French reclaim the plutonium and unused uranium to make new fuel rods. The recycling process recaptures almost 97 percent of the used fuels plutonium. We are talking about a mass the size of a matchbox, which can generate power enough for a family of four for 20 years. Here in the United States, we are preparing to bury our waste in the Yucca Mountain in Nevada for 10,000 years. Why dont we recycle our own nuclear waste?
Enter an unlikely alliance of the U.S. government, environmental groups and security agencies. In 1977 a moratorium was placed on nuclear recycling in the hopes that foreign countries would not recycle their waste; the idea was to prevent nuclear proliferation among non-nuclear nations. For their part, anti-nuclear activists believe there is no safe way to handle waste, so they prefer to close down plants rather than recycle, even today, when the real choice is between more coal-generated electricity, or more nuclear plants being built. Environmental and anti-nuke groups, led by Ralph Naders Public Citizen, are fighting even the suggestion of recycling a small amount of nuclear waste. There is a proposal by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to distribute a limited amount of nuclear waste by using it in carbon steel, stainless steel, nickel, copper and aluminum building products after it has been processed to be safe.
A recent press release by Public Citizen lists those who object to the NRC plan as the Sierra Club, the Committee for Nuclear Responsibility, United Steelworkers of America and singer/nuclear expert Bonnie Raitt. Their chief scare tactic is to claim that the waste will end up in bicycles, school playgrounds and cooking utensils. With nonsense like this being peddled today, you have to wonder what will be in store for in the United States if common sense prevails, and we decide to build the nuclear power plants we obviously need.


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