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Highlights

The Department of Energy (DOE) proposes under the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) to build facilities to begin recycling the nation's commercial spent nuclear fuel. GNEP's objectives include reducing radioactive waste disposed of in a geologic repository and mitigating the nuclear proliferation risks of existing recycling technologies. DOE originally planned a small engineering-scale demonstration of advanced recycling technologies being developed by DOE national laboratories. While DOE has not ruled out this approach, the current GNEP strategic plan favors working with industry to demonstrate the latest commercially available technology in full-scale facilities and to do so in a way that will attract industry investment. DOE has funded four industry groups to prepare proposals for full-scale facilities. DOE officials expect the Secretary of Energy to decide on an approach to GNEP by the end of 2008. GAO evaluated the extent to which DOE would address GNEP's objectives under (1) its original engineering-scale approach and (2) the accelerated approach to building full-scale facilities. GAO analyzed DOE plans and industry proposals and interviewed DOE and industry officials concerning the pros and cons of both approaches.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Energy The Secretary of Energy should direct the Office of Nuclear Energy to reassess its preference for an accelerated approach to implementing GNEP through construction of commercial-scale facilities using spent nuclear fuel recycling technologies that industry can offer in DOE's time frame. The reassessment should consider the time and government resources required to support both the initial spent nuclear fuel recycling facilities and research and development (R&D) on more advanced recycling technologies that fully meet GNEP's objectives.
Closed - Implemented
DOE formally announced in a June 29, 2009, Federal Register notice that the department had decided to no longer pursue the prior Administration's domestic Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) program and and that the department would focus on long-term R&D of technologies with the potential to produce beneficial changes to the manner in which nuclear waste is managed. This announcement effectively ended DOE efforts to pursue design and construction of spent nuclear fuel recycling facilities, either at a commercial or engineering scale.
Department of Energy If DOE decides to pursue design and construction of engineering-scale facilities for demonstrating advanced technologies, the Secretary of Energy should revise the schedule for an engineering-scale reprocessing plant so that the plant is built after an R&D facility and advanced reactor have conducted sufficient testing and development of recycled fuel to ensure that the output of the reprocessing plant can be fabricated into recycled fuel and used in an advanced reactor. The revised schedule should also allow for the R&D facility to test and demonstrate advanced reprocessing and safeguards technologies that would be used in the reprocessing plant.
Closed - Not Implemented
DOE agreed with this recommendation. However, according to DOE's June 29, 2009, Federal Register notice, the department is no longer pursuing the prior Administration's domestic Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) program, and is instead focusing on long-term R&D. Because DOE is not pursuing design and construction of engineering-scale facilities at this time, this recommendation no longer applies.
Department of Energy If DOE decides to pursue design and construction of engineering-scale facilities for demonstrating advanced technologies, the Secretary of Energy should direct the Office of Nuclear Energy to work with industry to the extent possible on advanced spent nuclear fuel recycling technologies in order to obtain industry's expertise and input on future commercialization of such technologies.
Closed - Not Implemented
DOE agreed with this recommendation. However, according to DOE's June 29, 2009, Federal Register notice, the department is no longer pursuing the prior Administration's domestic Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) program, and is instead focusing on long-term R&D. Because DOE is not pursuing design and construction of engineering-scale facilities at this time, this recommendation no longer applies.

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