An independent U.S. government watchdog has urged the Department of Energy to increase its efforts to make nuclear fuel cycle outputs less attractive to potential terrorists
Even as the United States continues to chide other nations on the risks of nuclear proliferation it suffered an embarrassment this week when an independent government watchdog said that the U.S. “faces challenges” in terms of its efforts to minimise proliferation and terrorism risks associated with nuclear power.
In a stinging report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said that despite numerous initiatives by the Office of Nuclear Energy (ONE) to make nuclear fuel cycle outputs less attractive to potential terrorists, “concerns remain about the radioactive spent fuel that nuclear reactors generate.” The watchdog agency suggested that reliable and cost-effective fuel cycles, some of which reprocess spent fuel and recycle some nuclear material such as plutonium, were required.
Stopping short of praising the United Kingdom and France for their decades of experiences in developing and operating reprocessing and recycling infrastructures, the GAO exhorted the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to deepen its cooperation with such nations.
The agency further picked apart weaknesses in terms of the ONE’s attempts to collaborate with the domestic nuclear industry and with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), another DOE entity.
The watchdog said that while the DOE’s research and development plans did not include a strategy for long- term collaboration with domestic nuclear industry – the ultimate user of any fuel cycle and technologies that are developed – without which the DOE “cannot be assured that the nuclear industry will accept and use the fuel cycles and technologies that the department may develop.”
In its critique, the GAO further noted that the ONE and NNSA do not have a formal mechanism to collaborate on future efforts to avoid duplication and overlap. To avoid such duplication, the GAO said, it recommended to the DOE that its two agencies complete a memorandum of understanding.