February 18, 2006

Bush: Technology can reduce nuclear energy risks

By Caren Bohan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush said on
Saturday he hoped to promote greater use of nuclear power both
at home and abroad, and said he saw promise in new technology
aimed at reducing nuclear waste.

Bush has asked the U.S. Congress for $250 million to fund
research to restart a controversial program that would
reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

The initiative would also involve working with other
countries like Russia, France, Japan and Britain to establish
an infrastructure to supply nuclear fuel to other nations.

"Together, we will develop and deploy innovative, advanced
reactors and new methods to recycle spent nuclear fuel," Bush
said in his weekly radio address.

"This will allow us to produce more energy, while
dramatically reducing the amount of nuclear waste and
eliminating the nuclear byproducts that unstable regimes or
terrorists could use to make weapons," he added.

Bush said the program, known as the Global Nuclear Energy
Partnership, would eventually be expanded to help emerging
economies develop nuclear fuel supplies.

"In exchange, these countries would agree to use nuclear
power only for civilian purposes and forego uranium enrichment
and reprocessing activities that can be used to develop nuclear
weapons," he said.

Western countries are concerned that Iran's nuclear program
will be used make nuclear weapons. Tehran insists it is for
peaceful purposes to develop fuel to run its nuclear power
plants to generate electricity.

The administration says such disputes could be avoided in
the future if countries were allowed to lease recycled fuel,
eliminating the need to build up their own nuclear programs.

Bush has long held the view the United States should build
more nuclear power plants, and has touted it as a clean energy
source and alternative to expensive natural gas.

He pointed out that France had built 58 nuclear power
plants in the past three decades and generated more than 78
percent of its electricity from that source.

"Yet here in America, we have not ordered a new nuclear
power plant since the 1970s," Bush said.

Reprocessing, which separates uranium and plutonium from
spent fuel so the elements could be used further, was abandoned
by the United States in the 1970s because of concerns it could
spread nuclear weapons.

Bush's budget request would allow research into new
separation technology that would make it harder to use the
plutonium byproduct in nuclear weapons. The Bush administration
says reprocessing could reduce some of the thousands of tons of
waste stored at nuclear power plants around the country.

Some scientists outside the administration are not
convinced the new reprocessing technology would eliminate the
risk of militants acquiring weapons-making material.

Bush, who called in his annual State of the Union speech in
January for the United States to break its addiction to Middle
East oil, plans a swing through Wisconsin, Michigan and
Colorado to discuss energy policy. He is also pushing expansion
of alternative fuels like solar and wind power and biodiesel
fuels for automobiles.