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Domenici Urges Increased Use of Nuclear Power

By Douglas E.Heimburger
Editor in Chief

Senator Pete V. Domenici(R-N.M.) addressed the nuclear engineering department Friday, explaining his opinions on nuclear issues.

Domenici, delivering the annual DavidJ.Rose lecture in nuclear technology, said that the United States should begin to reconsider nuclear power as a source for electricity in the next century. "We cannot even come close to the administration's goal of decreasing greenhouse gases without nuclear power,"he said.

As the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Domenici has become a key player in nuclear issues in Congress. Last year, he spoke at Harvard University to urge the renewed evaluation of nuclear power for the first time.

One year later, Domenici said that storage remains a key issue to be dealt with in future talks. A federal judge recently ruled that the U.S. government must pay nuclear power plants for storing spent fuel at their sites.

During the last decade, the government has been working to create a permanent, deep-dug storage site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. However, with construction not started on the site, it will be many years before it is ready, Domenici said.

Because of this problem, Domenici recommended that an interim storage site be chosen and utilized until the final storage facility comes on line. However, the newly-elected Democratic senator from Nevada ran on a strict no-interim solution platform, and Domenici said he saw progress in this area as difficult, unless President Clinton intercedes.

Research in reactors needed

Besides solving the problems involved with nuclear waste, Domenici also said that the government should fund additional projects in nuclear technology to build future reactors that are safer and more efficient.

The United States has already been surpassed in nuclear technology, Domenici said. France, for example, uses on a closed-loop system that recycles much of its nuclear waste into new fuel for the reactors. Meanwhile, the newest reactor in the United States operates using "30-year-old technology."

For the first time in many years, the Senate itself added spending on nuclear projects to the 1999 budget bill, which was a "refreshing sign" that thoughts on the use of nuclear power are changing. This year, $4 million was allocated for researching issues related to waste transportation, and $12 million for research on the health effects of low-level radiation, among other projects.

Holistic strategy preferred

Domenici mentioned that in discussing nuclear technology or projects, it is important to discuss a project as a whole instead of just a single issue. "If you bring the issue piecemeal, you will lose every time."

For example, if the citizenry is asked whether they want a truck hauling spent nuclear fuel passing down the street, they will say no, Domenici said. However, when the benefits and the drawbacks are presented together, nuclear issues stand a much greater chance of passing.

In response to a question, Domenici said that the anti-nuclear movement in the United States is not extremely strong, with just a few million members. However, the news media is quick to play on nuclear fears, he said.

Overseas, support for nuclear power has been varied. France, for example, generates 80 percent of its power using nuclear sources. However, in Germany, the new government has announced plans to end its use of nuclear power and instead buy electricity from France, he said.

With 40 percent of the nuclear power plant licenses in the United States expiring before 2015, issues related to nuclear power will be coming up more often, Domenici said.

Russia remains a nuclear force

Towards the end of his lecture, Domenici turned to foreign affairs, and discussed how Russia remains a potential source for harmful nuclear activity.

In Russia, citizens call plutonium "a legacy for future generations," and feel that it will lead to future wealth. As a result, Russians tend to be skeptical about proposals for reducing the risks involved with weapons-grade plutonium.

Domenici also discussed in detail joint U.S.-Russian plans to remove 50 tons of nuclear material, stating that its speed can be dramatically increased from 1.3 tons per year to 5 or 10 tons per year.

Moving away from the nuclear topic, Domenici said that the recent currency crises have arisen in part due to disparities in the world's banking rules. "You cannot have banking institutions across the world operating on different sets of rules and different sets of ways for telling the public their states."