If you live in DC and ride the metro, there is a good chance you know no stops have been made at Mount Vernon Square the last two days. If your stop is Mount Vernon Square, there is a very good chance you know the source of your inconvenience. Mount Vernon Square services DC’s Convention Center, which hosted delegates – representing 47 nations – in town to talk nuclear security.
The Nuclear Security Summit was intended to be a main vehicle for advancing Obama’s agenda to rid the world of nuclear weapons. According to the Associate Press, 90% of the world’s nuclear arms belong to Russia and United States. While disarming the huge arsenal of nuclear weapons possessed by these two countries is certainly a worthy priority, securing the nuclear materials used to assemble weapons is paramount to reducing a real nuclear threat. There is 250 tons of plutonium in stockpiles around the globe – enough for ten of thousands of nuclear weapons.
Whether you live at Mount Vernon Square or not, you are probably wondering where all this plutonium comes from.
One stream comes from commercial reprocessing – the separation of uranium and plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel (the waste produced from nuclear reactors). France, England, Russia, India, and soon Japan are the only countries in the world that have commercial reprocessing facilities. The civilian use of reprocessing is to use the separated plutonium as a new type of fuel for reactors, called mixed oxide (MOX) fuel. However, the process has proved extremely expensive, risky and environmentally harmful. Approximately $100 billion has been spent globally trying to commercialize plutonium to little avail. Learn more here.
Unfortunately, reprocessing is more than just a failed attempt to find something else to do with the mounting radioactive bi-product of nuclear power abroad. Three weeks ago, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, convened for the first time. The commission was established in response to the Administration’s decision not to proceed with the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. Its directive is to make recommendations for long-term management of U.S. radioactive waste. Among the options on the table is reprocessing.
One of the most significant agreements announced yesterday at the conclusion of the nuclear summit is the commitment by participating nations to secure all loose nuclear materials over the next four years. The materials include not only plutonium, but highly-enriched uranium (reactor fuel). The agreement is a clear acknowledgement of the threat of nuclear terrorism. It also serves as another example of the Adminstration’s nuclear inconsistency. The gathering and the agreement secured by President Obama is commendable. Unfortunately, at the same time, Obama is promoting the expansion of nuclear power – tripling the nuclear loan guarantee program from $18 billion to $54 billion.
Promoting the proliferation of nuclear power, while warning of the “urgency and seriousness of the threat” of nuclear materials is classic doublespeak. It’s time for the Obama Administration to stop doublethinking its nuclear policy.
Allison Fisher is the Energy Organizer for Public Citizen