Managing the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Policy Implications of Expanding Global Access to Nuclear Power [July 1, 2009]   [open pdf - 560KB]

"After several decades of widespread stagnation, nuclear power has attracted renewed interest in recent years. New license applications for 30 reactors have been announced in the United States, and another 541 are under construction, planned, or proposed around the world. In the United States, interest appears driven, in part, by tax credits, loan guarantees, and other incentives in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, as well as by concerns about carbon emissions from competing fossil fuel technologies. A major concern about the global expansion of nuclear power is the potential spread of nuclear fuel cycle technology-particularly uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing-that could be used for nuclear weapons. Despite 30 years of effort to limit access to uranium enrichment, several undeterred states pursued clandestine nuclear programs, the A.Q. Khan black market network's sales to Iran and North Korea representing the most egregious examples. However, concern over the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technologies may be offset by support for nuclear power as a cleaner and more secure alternative to fossil fuels. Both the Bush and Obama Administrations have expressed optimism that advanced nuclear technologies being developed by the Department of Energy may offer proliferation resistance. Both Administrations have also pursued international incentives and agreements intended to minimize the spread of fuel cycle facilities. Proposals offering countries access to nuclear power and thus the fuel cycle have ranged from requesting formal commitments by these countries to forswear sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technology, to a de facto approach in which states would not operate fuel cycle facilities but make no explicit commitments, to no restrictions at all. Countries joining the U.S.- led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), now the International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation (IFNEC), signed a statement of principles that represented a shift in U.S. policy by not requiring participants to forgo domestic fuel cycle programs. Whether developing states will find existing proposals attractive enough to forgo what they see as their 'inalienable' right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes remains to be seen."

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CRS Report for Congress, RL34234
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