Chaired By: Rep. Bart Gordon
Witnesses: Mark Peters, Deputy Associate Laboratory Director, Argonne National Laboratory; Alan Hanson, Executive Vice President For Technology And Used Fuel Management, Areva, INC; Lisa Price, Senior Vice President, GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy, And CEO Of Global Nuclear Fuel; Charles Ferguson, Senior Fellow For Science And Technology, Council On Foreign Relations
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REP. GORDON: Good morning, and this hearing will come to order. I want to welcome everyone to today's hearing to explore the policy questions and the research development and demonstrations needs associated with recycling of spent nuclear fuel.
I would like to welcome our expert panelists who will discuss the ongoing R&D activities in the federal government, private sector, and around the globe and help us to understand the safety, environmental, security, and economic issues related to the adoption of a nuclear reprocessing strategy.
I'm supportive of nuclear power, as I believe it is part of a solution to the daunting challenge of climate change and energy independence, and I also recognize that our 104 operating reactors provide very reliable base load power.
To me the best reason to consider reprocessing is an expansion of nuclear power may make the once thought -- or through fuel cycle inadequate for maintaining our nuclear power supply as uranium sources eventually become scarce. There are near-term technologies available for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel that could be deployed in the United States relatively quickly, but there are some well-documented concerns raised about this strategy.
I'm also aware of ongoing research in more advanced technologies that could address nuclear fuel cycle issues that we face today, and while reprocessing of spent fuel allows us to extract more energy from the given supply of natural uranium, it raises concern about increased costs for waste management and the proliferation of weapons-grade materials.
I'm hopeful that today's discussion will shed some light on the various benefits, challenges, and risks that we must address before adopting a long-term nuclear recycling strategy.
As I told our witnesses earlier, we have a variety of hearings going on simultaneously. The bells are ringing. We may have votes, and we want to have as much of the hearing as we can. If it gets to a point where there's going to be a long lapse, we will try to be respectful of your time.
And so let me -- I'm submitting my statement here if that's okay. As -- I know you've got prepared statements, and as you go through that, as much as you can, I would hope that you -- and later in your -- in the questions and answers -- try to help me with what I think is sort of my threshold question, or at least one of the threshold questions, and that is do we move forward with existing technologies to reprocess or do we skip that and wait for the next generation to come along?
And so the part of that is do we have storage now to wait for that next generation? Is that next generation really, you know, feasible, and what are going to be the cost consequences of that. So as you -- if you can in your materials, you might try to work that in and now I'd like to recognize Mr. Ehlers -- Dr. Ehlers for an opening statement.
REP. VERNON J. EHLERS (R-MI): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing today on nuclear fuel recycling. I'm sitting in for the real Ranking Member, Mr. Hall from Texas, who is temporarily detained on the floor and I'm sure he'll return shortly and spice up the meeting with his eliminable sense of humor.
I'm very please that you're holding this hearing, Mr. Chairman. I think it's a very important issue for this committee to be looking into, as nuclear energy is a clean and reliable source of base load power in the United States. Now, not everyone has agreed with that statement over the years, but I must say back in -- when nuclear powers began to run into trouble in the United States with the environmentalists, and I am a staunch, and always a staunch environmentalist.
I argued strenuously for nuclear power on the basis that it was the only method available then, which would not contribute to greenhouse gas. Back in 1970 not too many people worried about greenhouse gases. Today we worry a great deal about them. But we all know the basic facts.
There are currently 104 nuclear power plants in 31 states in the United States, generating approximately 20 percent of the electricity produced. Nuclear plants in 2008 ran at a capacity factor of 91.5 percent compared to 73.6 percent for coal, 42 percent for natural gas, and 40 percent for renewables.
My home state of Michigan has four nuclear plants and another one under construction, and they currently generate 26.2 percent of the state's electricity, one of the highest of any states, I believe. As the industry is facing resurgence in the interest of building new nuclear plants, the issue of nuclear waste is prevalent. It's always been the one great deterrent, seizing nuclear energy.
It's even more so true with the decision by the Obama administration to abandon a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, after over twenty years of research and billions of dollars of carefully planned and reviewed scientific fieldwork.
So we're here to receive testimony from our four expert witnesses on the facts and on the pros and cons of reprocessing and recycling used nuclear fuel. I believe that finding some sort of solution to how to handle our used nuclear fuel is critical to the continued successful contribution of nuclear energy to our country's electric generation and I look forward to hearing from today's witnesses on this important and timely topic.
I do regret, Mr. Chairman, that this committee has not had much to say about the handling of nuclear waste in the past. This is one of many issues, which should be in our jurisdiction but has been in another committee. I think we would have written a better bill regarding Yucca Mountain, and I think the biggest problem is the way the bill is written. It was impossible to meet the requirements.
No one could predict or prove that for 10,000 years there would be no leakage, whereas if we had taken the rate of monitored retrievable storage with the ability to repair any casts that might leak, that we would have been much further along at much less cost. No matter what, that may or may not have been the best solution but certainly should have been examined.
I hopefully -- I don't know myself -- I have mixed feelings about the reprocessing approach. The cost is as we know very high, and will it really solve the problem in any other way -- other things that we could do?
But I'm very eager to hear the comments from the experts this morning and to find out just what we can do in terms of dealing with nuclear waste, what is the -- what is proper and what is best, and what is most economical and what other approaches might be available and useful.
With that I yield back.
REP. GORDON: Thank you, Dr. Ehlers.
I will point out that I think that we are the only committee on the House side and maybe the Senate too in the last several years that have had any type of hearings on nuclear energy. We're going to continue with that. We've had a variety, both as well as roundtables.
I think that you are absolutely correct that we need to play a strong role in making sure that decisions are made on a scientific basis and not just on emotional basis and I think we can play a good role there. You'll also be pleased to know that the administration has not abandoned the Yucca Mountain site, but rather put it on hold.
Continuing -- they're continuing with all the various paperwork of moving forward. They're putting it on hold while they have a council group that is going to make recommendations on that in the future, so hopefully -- and Secretary Chu and Speaker Pelosi both spoke for this committee saying that it was part of the overall solution.
Now, if there are other members who wish to submit additional opening statements, your statements will be added to the record and I think that Mr. Rohrabacher would like to do that.
REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R-CA): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and first of all let me commend you for this hearing and your fairness. If there is a -- I have a letter that I have received from Nicoli Panavov Stepvov (ph), who is a senior member, a vice president of the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow, and he is a highly respected Russian physicist and I would like if possible to submit this letter from him to the record, but read a small portion of it as we begin.
REP. GORDON: You know, it might be best to wait. Let's make -- we'll make the -- the letter a part of the record if there is no objection --
REP. ROHRABACHER: (Inaudible.)
REP. GORDON: And with your --
REP. ROHRABACHER: What opening statement --
REP. GORDON: Or when your question --
REP. ROHRABACHER: -- at times -- I think that might be the better --
REP. GORDON: Yes, sir, if that's okay.
REP. ROHRABACHER: That is a good idea.
REP. GORDON: All right. Thank you.
And, again, any other members now or that aren't present here will have two weeks to make a -- to submit an opening statement.
At this time I would like to introduce our panel of expert witnesses.
Dr. Alan Hanson is the Executive Vice President for technology and used fuel management at AREVA International -- or Incorporated, rather; Ms. Lisa Price is the Senior Vice President of GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy and Chief Executive Officer of Global Nuclear Fuel; and Dr. Charles Ferguson is the Phillip D. Reed Senior Fellow for Science and Technology at the Council for Foreign Relations; and I now yield to my colleague from Illinois, Ms. Biggert to introduce a witness from her home state.
REP. JUDY BIGGERT (R-IL): Thank you, Chairman Gordon.
I would like to welcome Dr. Mark Peters from Argonne National Laboratory as one of today's witnesses. I'm very pleased that he could be here to enlighten the committee on the important work done in my district on reprocessing research.
Dr. Peters is currently the Deputy Associate Lab Director for the Energy, Sciences, and Engineering Directorate. He juggles the responsibility for management and integration of the lab's energy research and development portfolio and also provides technical support to the DOE Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative where he was recently appointed ASCI (ph) National Campaign Director for spent fuel disposition.
As most of you can see from his bio, Dr. Peters has extensive nuclear research and repository experience as a former Yucca Mountain Project Science and Engineering Manager at Los Alamos and at the DOE office of Civilian Radioactive Waste. So I've had the pleasure of working with Dr. Peters over the years and know that his perspective will be very informative.
So I look forward, Dr. Peters, to your testimony. I appreciate you being here today.
REP. GORDON: Thank you. And Ms. Biggert, you'll be glad to know that Chuck Adkins (ph), our Chief of Staff was there Monday, went through -- had a tour of Argonne and was very impressed with the operation there.
So the witnesses will have five minutes for your spoken testimony. Your written testimony will be included in the record for the hearing. When you have completed your spoken testimony, we will begin with questions. Each member will then have five minutes and we will begin with Dr. Mark Peters.
Dr. Peters, you may begin.
MR. PETERS: Chairman Gordon, Dr. Ehlers, Mrs. Biggert, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you on advanced technology for nuclear fuel recycling. I'm -- (inaudible) -- and I am the Deputy Associate Lab Director for Energy, Sciences, and Engineering at the Argonne National Laboratory.
Mr. Chairman, I ask that my full written testimony be entered into the record and I'll summarize it here.
So I want to talk about -- summarize my testimony going over three general areas.
First provide an introduction and some context and then a bit about spent nuclear fuel management and the fuel cycle, and then finally talk about the advanced nuclear fuel cycle of research and development program and needs going forward.
So by way of introduction, our world energy demand is increasing at a rapid pace. In order to satisfy the demand and protect the environment for future generations, including reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, future energy sources, most of all from the current dominance of fossil fuels to the more balanced sustainable approach to energy production that is based on abundant, clean, economical energy sources.
Nuclear energy is already a reliable abundant and carbon-free source of electricity in the United States and the world. In addition to contributing future electricity production, it could also be a critical resource for fueling the transportation sector.
However, nuclear energy must experience significant growth to achieve the goals of reliable, affordable energy in a carbon- constrained world. There are a number of challenges associated with the global expansion of nuclear power and the advanced nuclear fuel cycle and meeting these challenges must simultaneously address issues of economics, uranium resource utilization, nuclear waste minimization, and a strengthened non-proliferation regime, all of which require systems analysis and investment in new technologies.
In the end the comprehensive and long-term vision for expanded and sustainable nuclear energy must include safe and secure fuel cycle technologies, cost effective technologies for the overall fuel cycle system, and ultimately a closed fuel cycle for waste and resource management.
Related to spent nuclear fuel management, the nuclear fuel cycle is a cradle to grow the framework that includes uranium mining, fuel fabrication, energy production, and nuclear waste management.
There are two basic nuclear fuel cycle approaches, an open or once through fuel cycle as currently planned by the United States, involves treating spent nuclear fuel as waste without ultimate disposition of the material in a geologic repository. In contrast, a closed or recycled fuel cycle is currently planned by other countries, for example, France, Russia, and Japan, and involves treating spent nuclear fuel as a resource whereby separations and actinide recycling reactors work with geologic disposal.
For reprocessing to be beneficial as opposed to counterproductive, it must be followed by recycling, transmutation, and fission destruction of ultra-long-lived radiotoxic constituents. Reprocessing by the so-called PUREX method, which is plutonium uranium recovered by extraction followed by plutonium recycling using mixed oxide fuel in light water reactors is well established technology but is only a partial solution.
It's not at all clear that we should embark on this path, especially since the United States has not made a massive investment in PUREX/MOX infrastructure although the United States is proceeding with a plan to reduce excess weapons plutonium inventory using MOX and LWRs.
In contrast, advancement of fast reactor technology for transuranic recycling and consumption would maximize the benefits of waste management and also allow central progress to the longer-term goal of sustainable use of uranium and subsequently thorium fast reactors.
There's no urgent need to deploy recycling today but as nuclear energy expands, a once through fuel cycle will not be sustainable. To maximize the benefits of nuclear energy in an expanding nuclear energy future, it will also be necessary to close the fuel cycle.
Fortuitously, it is conceivable that the decades-long hiatus in the United States investment circumvents the need to rely on a dated recycling infrastructure. Rather we have the option to develop and build new technologies and develop business models using advanced systems.
Related to the R&D program, to reduce cost and ensure sustainability, and improve efficiency, safety, and security significant investments on the order of several hundred million dollars per year in a sustained nuclear energy R&D program are needed. Such a program must effectively support and integrate both basic and applied research and use modeling and simulation capabilities to address both near-term evolutionary activities such as life extensions of the current nuclear fleet and long-term solutions, for example, advance reactors and fuel cycle technologies and facilities.
As the nuclear energy -- nuclear industry pursues evolutionary R&D to further improve efficiencies along each step of the current fuel cycle, it's incumbent upon the government to implement long-term science-based R&D programs for developing transformational technologies and options for the advance fuel cycle.
In the very near term we recommend that the United States advanced fuel cycle program develop a science and technology road map. This would involve national labs, universities and industry, and be a comprehensive -- start with a comprehensive set of options for fuel cycle technologies and overall systems. The road map should describe the technical readiness, risks, and potential benefits of each option and the required R&D for each. This will be followed by implementation of a robust science-based R&D program to address all the challenges related to the fuel cycle.
Finally, there is sufficient time to analyze the technology options, choose the path to investigate, and conduct the science-based R&D and technology demonstrations that would be needed in the future for making decisions about the nuclear fuel cycle in the United States.
However, it is imperative to begin now to build the R&D infrastructure that is need for science and technology development, which must include advances in theory, model and simulation, new separation, fuel and waste management technologies and advanced reactor concepts.
And with that I thank you and will be pleased to answer any questions.
REP. GORDON: Thank you, Dr. Peters.
And, Dr. Hanson, you're recognized.
MR. HANSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
My name is Alan Hanson. I'm an executive vice president at AREVA --
REP. GORDON: If you don't mind, pull your microphone a little bit closer.
MR. HANSON: Okay.
REP. GORDON: There you go.
MR. HANSON: On behalf of AREVA's 6000 U.S. employees, I appreciate this opportunity to testify before you today. Relevant to today's testimony is the fact that AREVA operates the largest and most successful recycling facilities in the world.
I'm going to focus first on some of the benefits and criticisms associated with recycling. The main benefits, I think, are reasonably well known. There is a conservation of uranium resources that occurs because of the recovery of material and its reuse.
Recycling makes waste management easier by reducing the volumes, the heat loads, and changing the waste form which is to be disposed of and importantly recycling is a path to burning plutonium and removing it from proliferation concern. Recycling as we perform it today destroys about 30 percent of the plutonium and it alters the composition of the uranium plutonium so it is no longer very attractive for weapons purposes.
Now, in contrast to these benefits, the criticisms are in three areas. First nonproliferation and then costs and then the volume of wastes.
I want to focus on this nonproliferation issue, because this is the reason we are not doing reprocessing in the United States today. In recent years many countries have embarked on a nuclear weapons program for reasons of national prestige and power but they have not done it using the commercial fuel cycle. They have done it in a dedicated program.
The vast majority of countries seek only peaceful uses of nuclear power and they rely upon the industry to provide them with enriched material and recycling services rather than build their own facilities. This is one way to control the spread of the nuclear facilities by having a robust industry providing services.
A fundamental question is would a decision by the U.S. to recycle and close the fuel cycle would this contribute to proliferation or would it do the opposite and contribute to nonproliferation?
I have a strong belief that it would do the latter, that it would contribute to nonproliferation. Let's examine the case for proliferation. Start with diversion. The United States has for a long time had a plutonium economy in the military complex. They have demonstrated a wonderful ability to control the material and to keep it from diversion. There is no reason in my mind that the same techniques that are used for our weapons program cannot be used for commercial recycling to make sure that there is not a diversion.
What about theft? The same argument holds true. We have not had thefts of sensitive nuclear material in the United States. It's very well protected and I don't see any reason again that we can't protect commercial material in the same way.
This leaves only one reason to forego recycling and that is the issue of setting the example for the rest of the world. This is the ostensible reason that we are not recycling, but that policy has not stopped France, the U.K., Russia, and Japan from doing recycling and it will not stop China and India from doing it. Those are the next two nations, which are going to embark on recycling programs.
I would strongly recommend as an individual and as a representative of AREVA that the United States step to the forefront and build a recycling complex which can provide a service to other countries to make it unnecessary and uneconomical for them to pursue their own recycling and this would be a step forward on nonproliferation.
I'm not going to spend a lot of time on cost. This can be an expensive proposition. It can be done in an economical fashion as we are doing now in Europe. The cost of the fuel cycle for nuclear power is such a small fraction of the total cost of electricity produced, that if we were to double the costs of handling the back end of the fuel cycle, the consumer would see a few pennies a month. So it's not economically unattractive.
On wastes, the volume reduction is enormous. It's at least a factor of four for the repository for the high level materials. You do end up with a little bit more of the low level materials which need to go into surface burial, but our calculations would show that this would increase low level wastes only by about two and a half percent which is certainly not an onerous price to pay.
With regard to R&D, we are very supportive of R&D in the federal complex. There are things that industry will not do because they're too long term or too speculative. We are very supportive of the AFCI initiative, which Mark Peters referred to. We believe this should go forward, that work should continue to be done on advanced aqueous separations and also on electrometallurgical separations, which are not as advanced as aqueous processing and I think that Lisa Price will have more to say about that.
We should not be seeking a proliferation proof fuel cycle. It doesn't exist. We can't find it. We can make it proliferation resistant and that's what we need to do.
I would end my testimony here by trying to answer very quickly your question. I would personally vote for proceeding in a rather determined and in a near-term basis to implement recycling in the United States. I think waiting for Generation IV technologies would be another mistake for this country.
Thank you very much.
REP. GORDON: Thank you, Dr. Hanson.
And now, Ms. Price, you're recognized for five minutes.
MS. PRICE: Mr. Chairman, Dr. Ehlers, and members of the committee, I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today on a suggested approach for research development and demonstration for the -- for nuclear fuel recycling.
GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy developed this approach based on technology originally funded by the Department of Energy. The options for dealing with the nuclear waste problem can really be categorized in three ways in the 3 R's, repository, reprocess, or recycle. However, the differences between those 3 R's drive the way you think about the opportunities and how to proceed.
Long-term storage would be required in any of these scenarios; however, the amount of times that wastes would have to be isolated in a repository depends on which R is selected. Now, why is that? It's because the most significant factor impacting long-term storage is the amount of heat that is generated principally by four elements in the used nuclear fuel called transuranics. The 3 R's differ in how these transuranics are handled. So let's look at the 3 R's briefly.
Repository refers to sequestering the used nuclear fuel in a permanent repository. A typical spent fuel bundle will see significant heat reduction after hundreds of thousands of years.
Reprocessing, which extracts plutonium, one of the transuranics, and incorporates that plutonium into mixed oxide fuel, which is burned in light water reactors, is improved over a repository because it extracts plutonium. However, reprocessing will see significant heat reduction after thousands of years.
Recycling on the other hand fuels a sodium-cooled reactor with all the transuranics because the transuranics are almost completely burned up and consumed as power is generated by the reactor. They're not part of the waste stream and that significantly reduces the heat load on the repository to hundreds of years rather than thousands or hundreds of thousands of years.
With that I have four recommendations for the committee.
First, work with industry to drive research, development, and demonstration for recycling. GE-Hitachi has developed a framework for research on closing the fuel cycle and we've actually submitted that to Michelle (ph) in advance of this testimony. We recognize the critical importance of working with our national labs and our universities in advancing research and development work in support of this effort.
Number two, fund research that leads to logical development in areas like licensing, manufacturing and design validation, and advanced separation technologies.
Three, we should continue to fund basic research in advanced technologies for closing the fuel cycle.
And lastly, we should fund demonstrations that would provide the data that will support an informed decision on commercially deploying potential back end fuel cycle solutions.
The mission has an opportunity today to lead a transformation to a new, safer, and more secure energy -- approach to nuclear energy and recycling with a sodium-cooled reactor and electrometallurgical processing can close the fuel cycles.
Our technology and our solution approach meets the government's goals. It generates additional incremental carbon-free electricity. It provides enhanced energy security. It provides additional options for geologic storage greater than what -- that which exists today. It can reduce proliferation concerns and nuclear waste volumes and importantly it puts -- it positions the U.S. to be in a unique position to exert its leadership once again in nuclear science and technology.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and the committee.
REP. GORDON: Thank you, Ms. Peters (sic).
And, Dr. Ferguson, you're recognized.
MR. FERGUSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Dr. Ehlers, and members of the committee for inviting me to testify.
I request that my written comments be entered in the official record. In the following remarks, I briefly discuss major findings and recommendations based on the written testimony.
The United States has sought to prevent the spread of reprocessing facilities to other countries and encourage countries with existing stockpiles to separate plutonium from reprocessing facilities to draw down those stockpiles. The United States should reaffirm and strengthen this policy.
Reprocessing of the type currently practiced in a handful of countries poses a significant proliferation threat because the separation of plutonium from highly radioactive fission products separates it from a protective barrier against theft.
A thief, if he had access, could easily carry away separatable plutonium. Fortunately, this reprocessing is confined to nuclear- armed states except for Japan. If this practice spreads to other non- nuclear weapon states, the consequences for national, international security could be dire.
Presently, the vast majority of the 31 states with nuclear power programs do not have reprocessing plants. U.S. policy has been effective in setting an example and limiting the spread of reprocessing. Japan, France, and Russia launched their reprocessing programs before U.S. policy that was set in the Ford administration in 1976 and reaffirmed in the Carter administration of 1977, but we see that two countries in particular are of concern.
The Republic of Korea is renewing its 123 Agreement with the U.S., but I point out in my written testimony they are interested in reprocessing. We need to reaffirm that reprocessing is not something that should be done on the Korean peninsula, especially when we are dealing with the nuclear arm of North Korea.
United Arab Emirates in its 123 Agreement has a clause at the very end of the agreement on equal terms and conditions that could open the door to the UAE engaging in reprocessing or uranium enrichment in the future depending on what other countries in the Middle East do, especially Jordan.
I was just in Jordan two months ago and found out their plans. Global stockpiles with civilian plutonium are growing at about 250 metric tons equivalent to tens of thousands nuclear bombs are comparable to the global stockpile of military plutonium and more than 1000 metric tons of plutonium is contained in spent nuclear fuel of about thirty countries.
The types of reprocessing that were examined under the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, or GNEP, do not appear to offer substantial proliferation resistant benefits according to research sponsored by the Department of Energy. Moreover, the DOE assessment points out that these techniques pose additional safeguard challenges.
For example, it is difficult to do an accurate accounting of the amount of plutonium in a bulk handling reprocessing facility that produces plutonium mixed with other transuranic elements. This challenges raises the probability of diversional plutonium by insiders. However, more research is needed to determine what additional safeguards could provide greater assurances that reprocessing methods are not misused in weapons programs and whether it is possible to have assurances of timely detection of a diversion of a significant quantity of plutonium or other fissile material.
Time is on the side of the United States. There is no need to rush toward deployment in development of recycling of spent nuclear fuel. Based on the foreseeable price for uranium and uranium enrichment services and the known reserves of uranium, this practice is presently far more expensive than the once through uranium fuel cycle.
Nonetheless, more research is needed to determine the cost and benefits of recycling techniques coupled with fast neutron reactors or other types of reactor technologies.
This cost versus benefit analysis would concentrate on the capability of these technologies to help alleviate the nuclear waste management challenge. In related research there is a need to better understand the safeguards challenges and the use of fast reactors. Such reactors are dual use in the sense that they can burn transuranic material or can breed new plutonium.
In the former operation they can provide a needed nuclear waste management benefit, but they are expensive. In the latter operation, they can pose a serious proliferation threat because they obviously breed more plutonium.
Concerning lessons the United States can learn from other countries' nuclear waste management experience, the first lesson is that a fair, political, and sound scientific process is essential for selecting a permanent repository.
The second lesson is that reprocessing is currently practiced that does not substantially alleviate the nuclear waste management problem. Any type of reprocessing will require a safe and secure waste repositories and I will also add another recommendation from my written remarks is that we need better estimates on the remaining global reserves of uranium.
It's believed, based on current demand, that we have probably another eighty years worth of supply, maybe much greater than that. The MIT study that was just updated a few weeks ago makes this one of their major recommendations.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. GORDON: I want to thank you.
There were lots of good points made. The survey of the available uranium really is something we should try to do.
Well, first let me thank the witnesses for speaking in English. I was a little concerned that some of us wouldn't understand what you were talking about, but you dubbed it down for us and I thank you for that. I'd like to also ask if you would submit to the committee your suggestions for a -- an R&D road map and I know that it was somewhat mentioned, but I would like, you know, what we should be recommending to the Department of Energy, and while you're doing that, what you think should be the federal role versus the private role.
And before I get into my questions that I posed earlier, I would like to not start a fistfight, but I would like to see whether there is anyone who disagrees with Dr. Hanson's, you know, very specific statement that there is no such thing or will be no such thing as a proliferation proof reprocessing.
Does anyone disagree with that?
Okay. Ms. Price.
MS. PRICE: I guess what I would say to put it in context is the question and I think Dr. Ferguson touched on it is how you safeguard the treatment of plutonium through the process, and I would submit that the study in cold reactor with the electrometallurgical processing doesn't separate plutonium. All of the transuranics are burned in the reactor, and that's one way to help safeguard.
Now, a statement -- an absolute statement that there's absolutely no chance may be an impossible standard, but it is not the same type of concern, if you will, if the plutonium is not separated out on its own, well, and there are other methods where, in fact, it's consumed without that separation feature.
REP. GORDON: Okay.
MR. PETERS: Mr. Chairman, very briefly, I think it was four years ago in 2005 that the American Physical Society and Dr. Ehlers and I are members of APS, they published a study on safeguard's challenges and they have recommended we develop more into R&D on safeguards, and they've clearly stated in the beginning of the report there is no such thing as a proliferation proof technologies.
These things are dual use. You can make them evermore proliferation resistant if we're willing to spend the resources to do it.
REP. GORDON: So it can be significantly reduced? Would that be fair to say? But not eliminated?
MR. PETERS: Yes, sir, I think that's true. We can't eliminate it.
REP. GORDON: Okay.
So let's get back to my earlier question. In terms of, again, something we should be doing in this country, do we move forward with existing reprocessing technologies or should we wait and -- for that next generation and do we have the storage capacity to wait, which is somewhat how long does it take us to get there, and the cost differentials?
Who would like to start with that?
MR. PETERS: I can -- I can --
REP. GORDON: Yes, sir.
MR. PETERS: I can start.
REP. GORDON: Dr. Peters.
MR. PETERS: So as I said in my opening statement, I don't think we should proceed with existing technologies and let me expand on why not -- why I think that. The DOE program over the course of the last ten years has done a lot of analysis -- systems analysis, I'll call it, of the fuel cycle in thinking about whether we should go with recycling and LWRs or bypass that and go directly to, say, fast reactors.
And -- so we've looked at the options and again I'm going to tell you that we need to continue to evaluate the options, but as we've done that, we've seen there is some benefit as Alan eluded to with going to existing technologies and recycling in thermal reactors. You get volume reduction.
You do get reduction in some of the radiotoxic constituents as well as the heat generating radio nuclei's, but it's part of the way there and if you want to go to the full benefit, you need to full closure to the fuel cycle, and even the countries that are currently doing it like France, Japan, and Russia that are currently practicing aqueous reprocessing using PUREX like technologies and perhaps recycling within the reactors, ultimately their plan is to go to fast reactors and full closure of the fuel cycle.
So the question really is on the table is do we leapfrog or do we take a more evolutionary path, and I would put to you that because we have not currently put significant investment in the United States that we should seriously consider the leapfrog approach, meaning that we develop advanced technologies as we do that in the lab. We've done a lot of that in the lab already through some additional science-based work, demonstrate those at a reasonable engineering scale, and then go build them at the commercial scale.
One other point I make about storage. So there's the current spent fuel inventory that's stored -- spread across multiple sites, 121 sites, 39 states have currently stored spent fuel at that -- reactor sites. I won't to get into whether it's better to have centralized storage or storage at different sites, but it's safe and secure as it sits right now. It's not a permanent solution, so we need to move in a measured path.
REP. GORDON: I don't have much time left. So is there anyone who wants to address that?
I thought you probably would.
MR. HANSON: (Off mike.) Yes, we have --
REP. GORDON: And you -- your microphone.
MR. HANSON: (Off mike.) We have at AREVA over forty years of research built into our existing processes and we have developed a future process we call COEX, which does not separate out pure plutonium. It is a step in the right direction.
With regard to the leapfrog or evolution, I'd like to use an analogy. We are embarking on a nuclear renaissance and the reactors that are being built around the world and that are going to be built in the United States are called Generation III Plus. They are evolutionary reactors. I cannot find a single utility anywhere in the world that is prepared to leapfrog to a fast reactor today.
The situation is identical with recycling. We have evolutionary technologies which we can use today and we need to research a lot more before we can do the leapfrog. The problem with leaping is you don't know where you're going to land and instead of landing on the lily pad you may end up in the water and drown because your technology doesn't survive.
REP. GORDON: And I don't want to abuse my time.
So do you want to have rebuttal there, Ms. Price?
MS. PRICE: I guess I would echo Dr. Peter's comments first in the money that we would have to invest to build the infrastructure for reprocessing could be better spent in working on the technology road map for developing the recycling. The road map that we've developed, and this has been developed in conjunction with many of the national labs would say that you could develop recycling over the course of fifteen to twenty years and there's programmatic research that's laid out there.
One of the big advantages we haven't talked about but Dr. Ferguson mentioned on the uranium supply balances recycling -- for recycling allows you to extract about 90 percent of the available energy that's inherent in uranium and reduce the waste volumes by about 98 percent. So not only are you having a better overall conservation with respect to an important natural resource, you've also got a completely different characteristic since you can then consider in evaluating your long-term storage.
REP. GORDON: Thank you.
MS. PRICE: And so -- thank you.
REP. GORDON: Thank you.
You know, one of the unfortunate things about this format is that we don't get to go deeper, and we've had some roundtables, and I think we'll probably have more of these where we can really talk.
So just in conclusion, very quickly, I want each of you to give me two numbers. The first number is how long do you think that we can continue to store at existing locations with dry casts, wherever it might be; and the second is how long you think it would take to get that next generation recycling?
MR. Peters, two numbers real quickly across everybody.
MR. PETERS: We can store until the end of the century if you want to, but I would argue commercial by 2050.
REP. GORDON: Dr. Hanson.
MR. HANSON: We can continue to store virtually indefinitely. It's safe and secure and there are no restrictions on the ability to supply storage. So that is not a concern.
REP. GORDON: On site. I'm talking on site.
MR. HANSON: On site, yes, sir.
REP. GORDON: Okay.
MR. HANSON: Even on site. I wouldn't recommend doing that but nonetheless, it is possible. Your second request with regard to the numbers of years, I -- to do a change in the nuclear industry 40 years --
REP. GORDON: Just two numbers. We just need two numbers.
MR. HANSON: Forty years.
REP. GORDON: Okay.
MS. PRICE: A sufficient capacity on the nuclear sites to store them for as long as the nuclear plants are running, but I don't have any issues with that, and I would say fifteen to twenty years and you can have a sodium cold reactor in service.
REP. GORDON: Okay. And --
MR. FERGUSON: And I echo Dr. Peter's comments. I think another century on site with dry cast storage, we can probably get this up and running mid century in terms of commercial paths as we need to.
REP. GORDON: Thank you for your indulgence and Dr. Ehlers is recognized.
REP. EHLERS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
First of all, we'll go to you, Ms. Price. You talked about sodium-cooled reactors and I've just been out of the field for too long. Where does that stand now? Back when -- last time I looked at it they didn't look very promising. What's developed there? Are they going to be available commercially? Are they really an answer or not?
MS. PRICE: Well, to start off, as you know the sodium-cooled reactor has been around since the 1950s. More recently, in about 1983, we began developing a sodium-cooled reactor and it in fact continued with development with government funding through the advanced liquid metal reactor program that was funded through 1995, and so that, in fact, there has been quite a few developments in the fast reactor technology since the early 1950s when it was first introduced.
At the time -- at that time in between the 1995 to 2001 time frame the NRC actually reviewed the conceptual design work for the advanced -- for the sodium-cooled reactor and found that there were no significant safety concerns that would prevent moving ahead to taking the next step. There's still quite a bit of research and development work and demonstration work to be done, but we believe that the proof of concept is there and that in fact the reactor with the development path would be successful.
REP. EHLERS: You also mentioned water moderated reactors and that -- are those functional, not detrimental to the other. They improve the total fuel cycle. I'm just curious, are there certain areas of our country or certain areas of the world that are better for either or both of these reactors or are they universally applicable?
MS. PRICE: I think the way we sort of think about it is with the -- like the analogy evolved from my testimony of oil and how do you extract all of the value in a barrel of oil. A lot of the oil is going to be used to run the gasoline engine, but there's going to be some oil that's going to be used to make diesel for use in diesel cars and the question is which is better as gas -- an internal combustion engine or a diesel engine and the answer is they've got their own applicability and so there are going to be situations where they are very complimentary to each other and they're not at all substitutes.
What I would say in the context of an overall nuclear balance is that the view of using a fast reactor to address the transuranics would require about a third of your nuclear installed base, 30 percent of the megawatts that you would generate would be a fast reactor and the balance of it be a light water reactor and that would be sort of a system that would be in balance.
All of the transuranics and all of the waste product in the used fuel then could be sent over to the fast reactor and then you would not be building up anymore spent fuel.
REP. EHLERS: Okay. Thank you.
MR. Hanson, in Dr. Ferguson's testimony he states that most countries have not chosen reprocessing route because of the significantly greater fuel costs. That didn't seem quite to jive with what you said. What do you think about that statement? Or what is your reaction?
MR. HANSON: Our experience in Europe is that the additional cost for doing recycle approximates 5 to 6 percent of the costs of producing electricity. It's not a large amount. I don't think people have foregone recycling because of the cost issue. You need to have a fairly significant sizeable industry in order to justify doing recycling. If you have a small situation with only a few reactors, it's very hard to justify it, and most countries are not going to be prepared to make the massive upfront investment in building a facility as long as they can provide a service from somebody else like AREVA or some day the United States.
REP. EHLERS: Are you suggesting that AREVA or someone else would provide this service in various parts of the world and/or the waste would be shipped to those areas?
MR. HANSON: That is in fact what we are doing today. We are doing recycling for Japan, for Switzerland, for Belgium and a number of other countries. Italy now. And we provide the service. We either return the plutonium to them as MOX fuel or else we give it to another reactor and only the high-level waste goes back to the country from which the fuel came.
REP. EHLERS: And are you encountering any problems from people who are objecting to a plant being in the area, or wastes being transported through their particular country or their part of the country?
MR. HANSON: The only place where that has presented a significant problem has been in Germany where the step away from nuclear and the Green Party has made it a big issue and they have tried to impede transports, but the transports are continuing as we speak, mainly of returning wastes today.
REP. EHLERS: Thank you.
Thank you very much. Yield.
REP. GORDON: Thank you Dr. Ehlers. Right on time.
And the prompt Ms. Brooks is recognized or did she --
MS. : (Off mike.) Ms. Edwards.
REP. GORDON: Ms. Edwards. I'm sorry. Did she -- is she -- there she is.
REP. DONNA F. EDWARDS (D-MD): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and you know when you were asking earlier, Mr. Chairman, whether there were any folks who might disagree, I thought you were talking about up here on the panel.
I want to ask you a couple of questions and one has to do with a letter, and I don't know if you're aware of it, that was sent to President Obama in December from about 35 organizations from around this country raising serious concerns about both reprocessing and recycling, and in particular they point to the reprocessing that's done in France, the U.K., Japan, and Russia.
Two hundred and fifty metric tons of separated plutonium which they say is enough to make about 30,000 nuclear weapons and according to a GAO report in 2008, reprocessing irradiated fuel would pose a greater risk of proliferation in comparison with direct disposal in a geologic repository, and so I wonder if you have some of those same concerns and I understand that the Council on Foreign Relations has raised exactly that concern and yet, Dr. Hanson, I think that you have dismissed that as a proliferation -- both a proliferation concern and a security concern.
MR. HANSON: I think that question was directed to me. I would like to go back to what I said in my testimony. AREVA does not believe, nor do I personally believe, and I don't think anybody at this panel believes that we ought to have reprocessing and recycling taking place in every country on the face of the earth. This would not be a good thing to do. However, the proliferation risk if we do it in the United States is vanishingly small, vanishingly small.
If we can protect all of the nuclear weapons and all of the nuclear material we have in this country then we can easily protect the material that would be in commerce from doing recycling, so I don't think it's a risk in the United States at all.
Around the world in other places, yes, it could be a risk.
MS. EDWARDS: And AREVA -- is AREVA interested in building a reprocessing plant here in the United States?
MR. HANSON: At the Carnegie Endowment Conference held earlier this year our Chairwoman Anne Lauvergeon made a statement to that nonproliferation conference. She said there were only two countries in the world to which AREVA would be prepared to export our technology. One of them is the United States, and the second one is China.
MS. EDWARDS: Thank you.
And then is there any of our other panelists -- concerns have been raised by the Union of Concerned Scientists with regard to reprocessing spent nuclear waste and among them they cite an increased volume of radioactive waste by a factor of 7, significantly increased by more than a factor of 6 a volume of low level waste requiring disposal at a licenses low level waste facility and great increase by a factor of 160 in the volume of greater than Class C low level wastes, which contain significant amounts of long-lived and highly radiotoxic isotopes such as plutonium and mericium.
There's no U.S. facility that's currently as we know licensed to accept this waste and they also site the reduction in the volume of high-level wastes requiring disposal in a deep geological repository which we also don't have, less than 25 percent.
And so I guess my question is is the investment that we're talking about literally hundreds of billions of dollars that would be required for reprocessing given the security questions, given the lack of a geologic depository for the fuel. Is this really worth our investment or should we be making more investments in -- particularly in sources of energy that are actually going to get us someplace else without the attendant costs?
I'll just leave that open to the panel.
MR. PETERS: Well, I guess first I would say that we need to be investing in a lot of different energy sources, but to me nuclear is inescapable in terms of contribution to base load. I will say that first.
Second, as you well know, to the comments by the Community of Concerned Scientists, all the wastes that they're referring to exist. We have to deal with greater than Class C level of waste and high- level waste already. Is there increased -- the high-level waste volume reduction is actually a bit more significant than they say and I think Alan eluded to that in his testimony.
There would be an increase in low level waste, a small increase and also probably a small increase in greater than Class C, but it's a trade off and I would argue when you put all this together and think about spendability, reducing the overall burden on high-level wastes which is the most toxic, and all the other components, particularly in an era where we're hoping nuclear will grow, it makes sense to go to recycling because we're going to have to develop the sites anyway.
The nice thing about recycling also is you can tether the waste streams and perhaps look at different disposal settings for the different waste streams, which is much different than we think of the problem right now.
MS. EDWARDS: Thank you.
My time has expired and I probably will have some questions --
REP. GORDON: Well, I think Dr. Ferguson wants to probably --
MS. EDWARDS: Thank you.
REP. GORDON: Let Dr. Ferguson finish.
MR. FERGUSON: Thank you, Congresswoman Edwards, for raising those important points.
And if we look at what Ms. Price said about the number of fast reactors we would need under a closing the fuel cycle scheme that would really burn up these heavier elements, these transuranic elements to really reduce the burden on nuclear -- (inaudible) -- problems to -- (inaudible) -- basically a 2 to 1 ratio so you need like basically one fast reactor for every two light water reactors you have.
So we have 104 light water reactors right now in the United States. If we just keep that constant, which I think all four of us -- well, one point is it's not a question about being for or against nuclear power. All four of us on the panel are for nuclear energy and I think we all want to see it continue to grow.
Let's assume we have roughly 100 light water reactors. We'll need 50 fast reactors. How much are they going to cost, and they cost a lot more than a light water reactor.
What we really need to hear from -- it would have been great if we had a fifth panelist from the utility company and ask that person whether they'd be willing to invest in a fast reactor. We're having a hard enough time in this country getting utilities in vast -- in light water reactors to get the next generation of nuclear reactors being built in this country and here we are trying to think about something that's maybe fifty years in the future.
REP. GORDON: Thank you, Dr. Ferguson.
There are very serious issues that go along with nuclear power and I think this committee -- diversity of thought is going to help us get there better and so keep up the good work. We need you, Ms. Edwards and Ms.Woolsey, to ask the tough questions so we can get better thoughts.
And speaking in adversity, we recognize Mr. Rohrabacher. (Laughter.)
MR. ROHRABACHER: And this may fit right in with the comments on our alternative reactors in terms of the traditional reactors that we've been dealing with and the fast reactors that you just mentioned, but back to the letter that I submitted for the record, just for the sake of my colleagues, it's a letter I received from Nicoli Panavov -- if I -- sorry about mispronouncing the name -- Stepvov (ph), from the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow, and I would like to read a portion of that letter at this time and then follow up with a couple of questions that I have for the panel.
This is addressed to me.
It is time to upgrade the relations between the United States and Russia, particularly in the area of nuclear power. It is time to move from a relationship where the U.S. provides technical assistance to Russia to a real partnership for improving global energy and economic, environment, and nonproliferation.
I believe that the best-developed and most fruitful area where the United States and Russia can perform nuclear cooperation is in the joint development of a high temperature gas cooled reactor. The United States and Russia must work together to not only bring the benefits of this reactor to both our countries, but to provide this same proliferation resistant and secure type of reactor to other less developed countries who are moving quickly to harness quickly the benefits of nuclear energy.
In this way we can make great progress in nonproliferation, economic development without harming our environment.
And let me just note that twenty years ago one would think that I was reading a letter about cooperation with Russia in this area, I'd tell you you were nuts -- (laughter) -- but the fact is I think today some of the greatest -- the most important avenue we have to succeed in some of the issues that are being discussed here today is our cooperation with other countries, in particular with the former Soviet Union, with Russia, who is reaching out to us for this type of cooperation.
Now, with that said, the letter mentions the high temperature gas cooled reactor. I'd like to ask the panel if that is a technology that would significantly reduce the waste that has to be dealt with in the recycling and reprocessing process that is being discussed today.
Just -- I'm not sure whether the panel knows about a high temperature gas cooled reactor, but if --
MR. FERGUSON: Well, I hardly endorse your comments about U.S./Russia cooperation and just to briefly plug something. I recently directed -- the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report on nuclear weapons policy Chaired by Brent Scowcroft and Bill Perry, and I was the Project Director. We just published it a couple of weeks ago, and we have made the recommendation in there that we need greater cooperation with Russia on peaceful nuclear energy.
And the particular point you make about high temperature gas reactors I think is an important one. The Department of Energy itself has looked at these reactors. Not enough in my opinion, but what they've seen is that there are some benefits to be derived from them, maybe not a huge benefit in terms of waste reduction but one benefit is that they're more efficient, that you can get a lot more electrical energy produced for the amount of heat you produce from nuclear fission.
If we had to do it all over again, you know, go back fifty years into the past, 1950s when we started commercial nuclear power, it probably would have been a wise decision to have stronger development of these type of reactors. Right now the light water reactors are getting about a third efficiency, so we're wasting about two-thirds of the energy. With the HTGR you can get about 45 percent or so efficiency out of these. So that's one thing. It's --
MR. ROHRABACHER: So with more efficiency you actually have less waste to have to deal with --
MR. FERGUSON: -- can. In terms of the proliferation risk, you look at the plutonium 239 content coming out, the isotope that's a proliferation concern. It's actually a lower percentage ratio than you would see from a light water reactor, depending on how those reactors typically operate.
MR. ROHRABACHER: Mr. Chairman, I would just draw attention to that testimony and this is an issue we should be pushing our experts to look at as an alternative if it provides those kinds of benefits?
Any other reaction from the panel?
MR. PETERS: Well, let me -- let me say. So the high temperature gas reactor is one of the concepts as Dr. Ferguson eluded to that's probably the gem for international forum, so we are looking at it.
MR. ROHRABACHER: Yes, sir.
MR. PETERS: General Atomics, which is a U.S.-based company that has been thinking a lot about a high temperature gas reactor, and so there is a lot of thinking about it. As far as international cooperation, I can't agree more, especially in R&D.
MR. ROHRABACHER: One last note before -- we have the person -- the scientist who wrote me that letter from Russia with us today and his nickname is Nic Nic, and I wonder if we could just say hello. (Applause.)
MR. ROHRABACHER: All right. Thank you very much for indulging me, Mr. Chairman.
REP. GORDON: Welcome, Dr. Nic Nic, and I have to say that listening to Mr. Rohrabacher advocate cooperation with Russia makes me feel much better about our success in the Mideast. (Laughter.)
MR. : Mr. Chairman, on that point, we want to point out that it's not just the ice caps that are melting off. Thank you.
REP. GORDON: Mr. Lujan is recognized for five minutes.
REP. BEN LUJAN (D-NM): Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. Thank you, Chairman Baird. Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased that we're here today talking about this because as the debate continues about the future of energy generation in our country and the role that nuclear power has, it's critical that we as a nation invest in the necessary research and development to talk about the waste, to talk about what needs to be done with spent fuel and how we can break it down, how we as a nation have fallen behind other nations and how simply sticking it in the ground without attempting to break it down or attempting to solve this problem is bliss ignorance.
And I'm really happy that we're here today to talk about this and, Mr. Chairman, to really be excited about the fact that in the hearing charter today that there's widespread agreement that a more robust long-term research and development program is needed to address these outstanding issues and to truly look to see how we can focus a lot of our energy and investment leaning upon the expertise that we have around the country, around the world, to help accelerate this and have the distinguished panelists that we have today that have expertise in each of these areas is something that's real important to me, Mr. Chairman.
I'd be anxious to hear from Ms. Price. Do you think that the way that we're handling waste today is adequate? Or can we be doing it better?
MS. PRICE: Well, I think in terms of the way the utilities handle it today, it's very safely stored and appropriately stored on the utility sites, either in pools or in dry cast storage, and so I think we all four agree that there is sufficient ability to store it at the utility sites today.
Does that mean that we need to not look ahead to the fact that we really do need to have some sort of repository and the nature of that repository, and the size and the characteristics of it are dependent upon what solution we choose for managing the waste. So, today are we fine? Yes.
Can new plants be built with sufficient capacity on their sites to be able to handle the used nuclear fuel when it comes out of the reactors? Yes. But we do need to be looking ahead to a long-term solution that's going to help us address and really maximize the value of what is an asset that we have in used nuclear fuel.
REP. LUJAN: Ms. Price, is utilizing a repository simply storing it less expensive than recycling it?
MS. PRICE: It's not clear that it's going to be less expensive in the long run because the characteristics of the repository could be quite different. If you have to isolate the fuel for hundreds of thousands of years, you have different considerations than if you have to isolate it for thousands or hundreds of years. And so, if you can isolate and store the fuel for hundreds of years and then have the heat reduction, the radio toxicity reduced to a level where it's no longer considered high level waste, then you've got different characteristics and you might be able to utilize the repository in a different fashion, so the cost of the repository and the management of that over the long run compared to the cost for the recycling program is something that needs to be evaluated.
REP. LUJAN: Then why aren't we recycling today and we're just talking about storing it?
MS. PRICE: Recycling is one of those things that, as far as I know from a history standpoint, was not considered or we didn't move ahead with it in sort of the late '70s, early '80s.
REP. LUJAN: Could the argument be made that it's cheaper, less expensive to store in the facility like Yucca Mountain as opposed to engaging in the necessary means to be able to invest in the technology to adequately break down and to be able to utilize recycled, spent fuel waste?
MS. PRICE: My last comment and then I'll turn it over to my colleagues on the panel. I would say that that wasn't the decision that drove storing it on site and a repository solution versus recycling opportunity. That was driven by other factors, including proliferation concerns and risks at the time, and I think this is the time to look at-if we're going to move ahead with a nuclear renaissance, we need to have an all-enclosed fuel cycle opportunity that really allows us to safely manage nuclear fuel in a more safe, more secure, way going forward.
REP. LUJAN: Thank you. And if I could, Dr. Ferguson, you mentioned the MIT study that's taken into consideration how much uranium is out there and the inventories. Are you aware if the Navajo Nation's uranium supply was included in the MIT study?
MR. FERGUSON: No, I'm not, but that's an important question. How does uranium mining, prospecting, affect certain groups of people? And I know this has been a big environmental concern with that group of people.
REP. LUJAN: And, Mr. Chairman, the reason I bring that question up is as we look toward the debate about the way nuclear energy will have in the future of our nation's energy needs that we not forget about many of the abandoned uranium mines around the country. At current count, over 500 in the Navajo Nation alone. They need to be addressed as we talk about this, as well, and so as we talk about the importance of recycling and R&D to being able to break down waste that we not forget about some of the responsibilities that we have also with some of the abandoned mines and the people that are being impacted.
To date, there's been 113 structures that are in the process of being demolished, 27 radiation contaminator structures and ten residential yards. You know, people are living in these contaminated areas, and I think that we need to make sure that we talk about that at some point, as well. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for this important hearing.
REP. GORDON: Thank you for bringing that up. Again, I think one of the things we've learned today is that we do need to, again, have that type of survey. We need to be reviewing the things you just talked about and we will have-you know, this kind of discussion is not off-limits to this committee and, again, there are hard questions that need to be asked, too, and we'll try to do that. Ms. Biggert, you're recognized for five minutes.
REP. JUDY BIGGERT (R-IL): Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you all for being here. This is, I think, a really good hearing. About 11 years ago, when I first came here, in the first month that I was here, I got a call that the president had cut $20 million from the electrometallurgical program at Argonne. I didn't even know how to pronounce it at the time, but I was very concerned and worked to get that money back, so this is how long, at least when I've been here, that we've already been working on reprocessing and now we're talking recycling, but it's very frustrating, I think, that we really haven't moved the goal posts very far.
And, in fact, there were six reprocessing plants that were built in this country, and one opened and then the rest were shut down without evening opening by then President Carter. And, still, we sit, you know, waiting for something to happen, and I know, Dr. Peters, you said that you don't think that it's really urgent that we move ahead right now, but I am frustrated that we are not making enough progress and particularly if we're going to face something like cap and trade and, you know, all the things that we're going to have to do because of the carbon, you know, because of the carbon issue.
And I think that's very important, but I think that nuclear really has to be at the forefront of moving ahead if we're going to be able to reduce the carbon in this country and reprocessing or recycling, I guess we're calling it recycling now, it's so important, but we have to move ahead. And I think the research and development and the demonstration, it's so important when we had GNAP in the last few years, we've talked about what that means, and I'd like to ask Dr. Peters, what research aspects of GNAP and the advanced fuel cycle initiative, what aspects of those should be continued?
MR. PETERS: We should continue to develop the advanced reprocessing technologies, both aqueous and electrometallurgical, electrochemical, pyro, whatever you want to call it, at the lab scale for sure. That's what, as you're aware, has been going on for a decade or more. There also needs to continue to be work on advanced fuels, developing advanced fuels for ultimate recycling.
There needs to be work on waste management, the waste management aspects of the problem so other concepts, say, in addition to, say, Yucca Mountain repository, thinking about certain streams, going down bore holes versus salt disposal versus alternative disposal concepts. All of this has to be brought together through a very robust analysis of the overall system so that you think about the economics of nonproliferation and all that, so the AFC, the Advanced -- (inaudible) -- initiative program that existed before GNAP really is where we're going back to, quite frankly.
But the component that we need to add to it is the demonstration component, and that gets back to needing to think very carefully over the long term about the R&D needs for the science of engineering at the lab scale, but thinking about ultimately going to demonstration, and that needs to be laid out.
REP. BIGGERT: I think the problem that we had with the GNAP was that there were some wanting to move right from the research and development to the commercialization rather than doing the demonstration or the systems analysis, but how long is this going to take? And, Dr. Hanson, you've talked about-and I've been to France to see what you do there, and it seems like you're moving and everyone talks about the proliferation and yet I think we were so worried about that 30 years ago and yet, unfortunately, most of the countries that we worried about already have some capabilities in that area.
So we need to move ahead faster to find, you know, maybe something resistant but at least to go forward on our own with our development. In the MOX facility that's being built at Savannah River site, it's scheduled to produce MOX fuel by 2016. Who will be using this MOX fuel that's being developed?
MR. HANSON: To your question with regard to who will use the MOX fuel, it will be any of the U.S. utilities who choose to purchase this fuel from the MOX project. At the moment there are discussions ongoing with three or four U.S. utilities that have a strong interest in purchasing that material for their reactors.
REP. BIGGERT: Okay. Do you think we're moving fast enough for development of --
MR. HANSON: No, absolutely not. We are sitting now on 60,000 metric tons of spent fuel. We are discharging 2,000 every single year and that's before we build any new reactors. If it takes us 20 years to start up recycling, we will have 100,000 metric tons of fuel in storage. The largest plant in the world, which we operate in France, reprocesses and recycles about 1,700 metric tons a year. That means if we replicated that plant in the United States, it would take 60 years just to get rid of the inventory without touching the material that's being discharged.
I think we have waited too long. I think we need to start as soon as we can while continuing the R & D on advanced technologies to do it even more efficiently, and I applaud the committee's support of the AFCI program in that regard. I think that's very, very important, but I don't think we can wait for revolutionary changes which may never actually come to fruition.
REP. BIGGERT: Thank you. Yield back.
REP. GORDON: Ms. Kosmas is recognized for five minutes.
REP. SUZANNE KOSMAS (D-FL): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate this opportunity, and I thank you all for being here. I appreciate that the chairman said this had been dumbed down to us, but I think I need to go one level lower for the technological part of it, but I state for the record that I'm a proponent of nuclear energy as one of the alternative supplies that we need in order to move forward. And so I very much am interested and enlightened by what you have said, what I was able to grasp from it.
Perhaps my comment would be that I think you all said that the recognizable problems are nonproliferation, cost and waste. And those are things that would have to be considered no matter what course of action we took.
As I understood you, Dr. Peters, said fast track the advanced fuel cycle program. Dr. Hanson said, recycle and bring it home, and if I understood correctly, Dr. Price said we could be doing both. Did you say that it's possible to create a situation in which 70 percent is based on recycling and 30 percent then uses the recycled, or did I misunderstand you in that?
MR. PRICE: I'd like to clarify that a little bit. Dr. Hanson and I advocate different ways to handle the used nuclear fuel. The technique he uses in reprocessing does extract some of the incremental energy and burns plutonium. The technology that I'm advocating actually burns up all of the high heat- bearing constituents and they use nuclear fuel, and so it's a different technology. I do think we should continue to do research, as Dr. Peters suggests.
I'm focused on the recycling side of things because I think we can drive that and have a better all-in solution in the back end.
REP. KOSMAS: Thank you. I think that was clarified, but I appreciate it very much. So, Dr. Peters, if you are recommending that the United States advance fuel cycle program develop a road map, in your opinion, what's the reasonable timetable and the budget for the development of that road map? In other words, where should we be going now and would you agree that continuing the recycling while working on the advanced is a good parallel track?
MR. PETERS: So, first on the road map, I'll do a cost estimate on the fly here. I'm not speaking for the Department, but we wouldn't reinvent the wheel. There's been a tremendous amount of work done already. That's the first thing, so I'm imagining a group of lab, university and industry people getting together over the course of the next six months to a year that could put together, I think, a very robust road map and, you know, it would not break the bank.
It would be, you know, a few million dollars kind of thing because we've thought about this very deeply. I think we just need to come together and lay out the right path forward.
Your other question, I think you articulated my position correctly in your introductory remarks. I think we should continue to advance the recycle program, but I would argue for a bump in the investment once we have the right road map, and I think the outcome of that road mapping exercise ultimately is going to be a policy decision to reprog, I hope.
REP. KOSMAS: You do? Okay. Dr. Hanson, would you restate what I thought I heard you say about the leapfrog?
MR. HANSON: Yes. In my long career in the nuclear industry I have never seen a leapfrog that was successful in this industry. I started in the fast reactor world when I got out of school and it was "just around the corner." We were going to be turning on fast reactors and they were going to replace light water reactors.
The fast reactor's a little bit like fusion. It's always 20, 30 years into the future and it just keeps on receding there. I would like to have the optimism that Dr. Price has with regard to fast reactors, but my own experience is that they are not yet proven to be commercially acceptable. We only have a nuclear renaissance because the utilities have driven capacity factors up in excess of 90 percent, and they're running the plants very efficiently.
There is not a single fast reactor anywhere in the world that's even achieved a 50 percent capacity factor. There is a lot of proof of principle which needs to be done before any utility will purchase a fast reactor, so if we're talking about leapfrogging, that leap may take us a very, very long time before we land.
REP. KOSMAS: Thank you very much. Dr. Ferguson, would you reiterate what you said about the utilities needing to be at the table?
MR. FERGUSON: Absolutely, and I think on the fast reactor question, I think to narrow down the specific question relevant to your committee is: what is the role of the U.S. government? Should you be putting money into developing a demonstration project for a fast reactor?
I know there's been a big debate in a related area. That's a demo project. Carbon caption storage from coal fired plants. We've been back and forth on this, and it looks like Secretary Chu is now willing to put about a billion dollars toward that. My opinion is, it's a step in the right direction.
And so the question becomes, I think Dr. Hanson is framing this in an interesting way. We look at France, we look at Japan, we even look at Russia and we look at India, the few countries that have some experience with fast reactors--and I was in France just two months ago, spent a week there touring. And my visit to the Phoenix reactor site, they're shutting it down this year. I talked to the director. He's a very sad man because they're shutting it down all the time and it's, you know, uncertain when France is even going to get the next fast reactor built, maybe 2020 or beyond.
So, that's the road to fully close the fuel cycle, that's what Ms. Price is saying. Basically, you have two choices here. You would have to follow what the French are doing now, which is a once through recycle and they're storing the MOX spent nuclear fuel at La Hague, so they still have to pay for those storage costs. And the view is that they're going to eventually mine that plutonium and that spent fuel to feed fast reactors in the future, but we don't know if these fast reactors are going to work or not, whether they're economically feasible, so maybe it does make sense to put some federal money into one demonstration project and see if this works or not.
REP. GORDON: Thank you, Dr. Ferguson.
MR. FERGUSON: Thank you.
REP. GORDON: I think, Ms. Kosmas, your questions sort of demonstrate that we need to dig more.
REP. KOSMAS: Yeah.
REP. GORDON: And learn more about this. Thank you.
REP. KOSMAS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I look forward to the round table discussion. Thank you.
REP. GORDON: Right. Mr. Bilbray is recognized for five minutes.
REP. BRIAN BILBRAY (R-CA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You know, Mr. Chairman, I'd like to stop a second and really congratulate you at having this hearing, and I just want to say that I appreciate the fact that you've been brave enough to openly discuss these issues.
Political orthodoxy basically says there's a lot of discussion that this committee's been doing that shouldn't be done if you want to, you know, be a political might in American politics. And I know that just having this discussion, really, I think does credit to this committee and shows how essential this committee is to not just Congress but this nation, and so I just really want to congratulate you on that because the fact is that when it comes to anything nuclear, we have seen prejudice and ignorance stand in the way of science.
And it's just as much as history has damned people in the past for allowing their prejudices and their phobias to stand in the way of intellectual decision and discussion. I think that time is going to show that you led the charge on opening the door, pulling the curtain back and being, frankly, looking at the facts rather than misperceptions of the past, so --
MR. GORDON: Thank you, Mr. Bilbray, and your time is extended another ten minutes. (Laughter.)
REP. BILBRAY: Thank you. It's going nuclear! Not a meltdown. Look, my question is one of the things that-and we'll get into this. One of the great obstructions of working at, first of all, I totally agree that we ought to be looking not at disposal but at storage, based on either short-term or long-term reprocessing in some way, and we can talk about that, but let's be frank about it.
One of the great oppositions to the Yucca Mountain project was not based on on-site locations issues; it was based on transport. Now, how in the world will we be able to face the political heat, and I know you're probably the wrong ones, but just your comments about the issue that we need to address the issue of transport, especially when it's kind of interesting because from the military point of view there's a lot of related issues that don't seem to be standing in the way of the United States government doing what it needs to be able to take care of the problem. Comments on the transport issue.
MR. PETERS: So advanced that our transporting plutonium several hundred miles from La Hague reprocessing facility in Normandy down to the Molex facility in the south of France. Now they haven't had any security incidents that I'm aware of and they've been doing this for many years, so, so far so good, but it only takes one incident.
They're, you know, transporting several bombs' worth of plutonium each shipment, so it's not the proliferation threat in countries like France. It's not that France would then use that commercial program to make its own nuclear weapons; it's that insiders might be able to sneak out some quantities of that material. The point of my testimony: only one-tenth of one percent of the material going through a bulk handling facility annually could be enough to make a nuclear bomb.
Now you've pointed out the U.S. military. I used to be in the U.S. military and it was in the U.S. nuclear Navy. We have a very good safety record, but we had a problem a couple years ago in the U.S. Air Force. There was the Bent Spear incident in which some nuclear-armed cruise missiles were unaccounted for for 36 hours.
Now there wasn't an insider threat there; it was really just a really bad mistake at accountability, but it does point out that, even in organizations with high security standards, things can go missing. There's an opportunity for diversion.
REP. BILBRAY: As you noted, it's not really a technical issue per se. The technologies exist. We do it safely and securely now domestically. It's all about public trust and confidence. And it's a social science issue if there's science in it, and so it's about communication and people understanding the risks and whatnot and at a level that they can understand and also talking to them very carefully about what the plans are and making it very transparent. And that's something that needs to be done.
I mean, we've had success in the United States with shipments to the -- (inaudible) -- pilot plant in New Mexico. I'd say in general the transportation program there has gone very well, so we have some experience domestically, but it would be a long process of developing public trust and confidence.
MR. : I would just like to echo what Mark Peters has just said. We have transported tens of thousands of casks of used fuel to our facilities in France without any incident. The containers which are used are, for all practical purposes, indestructible. There is a need to get public acceptance and that is a social science issue, not a technology issue.
I think we have had a phobia in this regard for many, many years and we need to get over that phobia because we have to eventually move the material somewhere.
REP. BILBRAY: My time has expired, but I just want to say I think that maybe I am suspicious of intention here, but the phobia was almost promulgated by people based on the fact that they saw it as a way to destroying an energy source based on misperception and they used it as an excuse for an agenda that wasn't up-front.
And so thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and again, thank you for holding this hearing. I hope to see us continue this and maybe one committee that wants to handle only the pieces of legislation that are marked H.R. that may not want to address the nuclear power issue, but I'm glad to see that we've been able to reserve this mostly because they've been willing to avoid it, and I hope that you continue your leadership on the issue. Thank you.
REP. GORDON: Thank you, Mr. Bilbray. Dr. Hanson, if you want to confirm the undestructability of those casks, I'll loan you my daughter for-that's the ultimate test. I would suggest that the committee buckle their seatbelt. And we recognize Ms. Woolsey for five minutes.
REP. LYNN WOOLSEY (D-CA): Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, I echo what Congressman Bilbray just said about you and how open you are and how good you are to all of us.
REP. GORDON: Give her some more time!
REP. WOOLSEY: Even though I can't remember what Mr. Bilbray called me because it hurt my feelings so much. What were you-all those words about people like me that absolutely do not support nuclear energy. And it isn't because it's not a decent energy. It's because of human error and our lack of being able to handle waste and have a place for waste and transporting, and you know, it's a good energy until it isn't. And then look what we've got. We've got another Hiroshima. We have Hiroshima.
I absolutely believe we should be using these same amounts of millions of dollars for other kinds of energy research until-I don't think it'll ever be safe enough, and I just wanted to be up-front with that. And, you know, there's solar, there's wind, there's waves, there's geothermal, there's all kinds of things we haven't even thought about because we're putting millions and billions of dollars into something that people really don't want to have in their neighborhood.
So, we have gone on and on about Yucca Mountain. Imagine, Dr. Hanson, if we tried to build a recycling plant in the United States of America to handle all of the nuclear waste for the world, world-wide. I mean, I can't imagine trying to get through that argument and maybe 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now, but I don't think that could happen now. Maybe some other country. Maybe we could convince some poor country to take our waste and handle it, you know, on some island where we could just turn our backs on it, which I wouldn't support at all.
But, I mean, I know I'm not going to convince you. You're not going to convince me. This is very good because I learned what all of you folks think is so important and why it's okay to invest in doing all of this when, indeed, we could have quite an accident here in the United States of America. And that's why we don't have new nuclear sites and how long's it been since we've had a new nuclear plant in the United States? Yes, Dr. Ferguson.
MR. FERGUSON: 1996, Watts Barre, Unit One, was the last plant to really come on operation.
REP. WOOLSEY: That's South Carolina?
MR. FERGUSON: Tennessee.
REP. WOOLSEY: Oh --
MR. : It's part of TVA, so-but that plant was ordered back in Alabama, actually, but --
MR. FERGUSON: Watts Bar is Alabama? No, I thought -- Tennessee Authority. But that was ordered back in 1970, so we haven't had a plant that's been ordered since about 1973 and gone fully to construction.
REP. WOOLSEY: And what are the arguments against these plants that you are having to surmount?
MR. FERGUSON: Well, I think it really boils down mostly to the economics. I mean, there has been some public opposition, but if you look at the communities where nuclear power is being generated, they tend to be overwhelmingly supportive of nuclear power plants for jobs, and the plants have become very safe compared to where we were with Three Mile Island. I grew up in Pennsylvania and not too far from where the accident happened so I remembered what happened there 30 years ago, and I would mention to Congressman Bilbray I was in the U.S. Nuclear Navy so I know what a safety program is like that meets high standards of excellence.
What happened immediately after Three Mile Island was the industry formed what's called INPO, the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations. It's been a self-policing organization that has been an industry watchdog. Now, it doesn't mean we don't need a Nuclear Regulatory Commission. We do. We need a strong independent regulator.
But INPO has served an important purpose in keeping the industry accountable and, in a way, kind of shaming them and doing peer reviews and making sure that they are living up to high standards. Not that they haven't had problems. If you look at a plant in Ohio a few years ago, Davis-Besse, there was a potential accident in the making there.
MS. PRICE: So unless you want to --
MR. FERGUSON: Well, I guess a little bit more. So the last one was -- (inaudible). Then there was another one brought online so (we were ?) currently operating 104 reactors, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has 17 combined construction operating license that they're in the process of evaluating right now that could lead up to 26 new units. So right now the -- what they're saying is there could be new plants online by 2015, 2016. So they are moving forward. A lot it's about the economics.
REP. WOOLSEY: And for the same amount of investments are there not safer ways to provide energy in the United States of America?
MR. FERGUSON: In terms of cost per kilowatt hour? It's competitive with coal.
REP. WOOLSEY: Well, how about risk --
MR. FERGUSON: Oh. Oh. Well, the --
REP. WOOLSEY: -- (inaudible) -- part of it?
MR. FERGUSON: Well, it's -- they all are going to have their challenges. It's hard for me to put a price on risk, first of all, so I probably can't give you a clear answer to that. What I'll say right now is that we should be investing in all the things that you're talking about -- (inaudible) -- just aren't cost competitive. More importantly, it's the reliability and the ability to produce a lot of electricity that you don't get from some things like solar and wind, yet.
REP. WOOLSEY: Yet.
MR. HANSON: If I -- if I may, I'd like to correct one thing in your statement. The -- there is no energy technology that's risk free. That is certainly true, and nuclear has some unique hazards associated with it. But it has been -- it has a very, very high safety record worldwide. There is no conceivable accident in the civilian nuclear power cycle that can -- has anywhere near the consequences of a Hiroshima. That is physically impossible.
You mentioned who would want it. During the GNF (ph) studies 15 communities raised their hand and said, we want to study putting a recycling facility in our community because of the economic benefits it would be -- that would come with it. Finally, just to make the case for the fact that there is no such thing as a perfectly safe industry, the windmill industry is growing -- and by the way, we make windmills too -- the windmill industry is growing pretty fast in the U.K., and there's a very interesting company there that's making windmills and they are keeping track of the deaths caused by windmills, which at last count had reached 41 worldwide, and we haven't killed that many people with the nuclear industry in over 50 years of operation.
REP. GORDON: Thank you, Dr. Hanson. And Ms. Woolsey, we need you to continue to ask the hard questions. Thanks for being here. Do you have a -- do you want to have a closing?
REP. WOOLSEY: Well, I'm -- my closing was my chairman here from my -- our subcommittee. What about Chernobyl?
MR. HANSON: Chernobyl is -- was a bad example with a bad reactor with no containment and poorly operated. The direct consequences in terms of death was exactly 31.
REP. GORDON: Thank you, and Mr. Hall is recognized for five minutes.
REP. HALL: Mr. Chairman, I want to yield maybe a minute of my time to Mr. Bilbray to expound a little further.
REP. BILBRAY: Mr. Ferguson, you've served in the United States Navy. What's the last reactor put online in this country?
MR. FERGUSON: Oh, well, the U.S. Navy's.
REP. BILBRAY: Right.
MR. FERGUSON: I don't know exactly what the reactor --
REP. BILBRAY: George Bush.
MR. FERGUSON: Right.
REP. BILBRAY: Okay. Ronald Reagan.
MR. FERGUSON: Yes, sir.
REP. BILBRAY: (How many ?) nuclear power units -- who in the last 30 years have been the only purchasers of nuclear power in this country?
MR. FERGUSON: Well, that brings -- yeah, the U.S. Navy, and it brings up a very important point about a workforce, and part of the work I'm doing at Council on Foreign Relations is analyzing the nuclear workforce and the shortages we have. If we really want to expand nuclear energy use, where are we going to get the skilled people to run these plants? We're -- been drawing them from the U.S. Navy but the Navy obviously needs these people as well. So our workforce is shrinking. The workforce is aging. They're nearing retirement ages very rapidly.
REP. BILBRAY: And the fact is not only has the federal government continued to purchase and invest in nuclear power as its preferred source for a large craft but it also places it in the middle of high-urban areas like San Diego Bay where you have multiple, multiple nuclear reactors right in the urban core, right?
MR. FERGUSON: That's correct, and there's also the submarine reactors that are designed to go very deep. I can't -- (inaudible) -- tell you how deep. That's classified. But very deep, and still operate very effectively.
REP. BILBRAY: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. I just wanted to point out how safe it was.
REP. HALL: I (believe ?) it's time for me to reclaim my time, and I'd like to use my time to point (up ?) that this is the first difference I've ever had with Ms. Willtree (sic) I believe, on nuclear energy, and --
REP. WOOLSEY: Except you don't know how to pronounce my name yet.
REP. HALL: Wooslsey (sic). I always call you Lynn. (Laughter.) Okay. Let me use my time. Dr. Ferguson, a real quick answer from you on this, if you would.
You talked about the first reactors in your testimony and I think you talked some more about them a little bit ago, about the reactors being able to breed new plutonium but -- and how they were designed to do this I think you covered that but I didn't hear an answer as to why is France turning -- why are they shutting down their fast reactor -- I think it's Phoenix, isn't it? Prototype -- Phoenix?
MR. FERGUSON: That's correct. They're shutting that down this year. They're shutting --
REP. HALL: Why? Why? Just give me the short answer to that.
MR. FERGUSON: One very brief reason is it's a political opposition to -- their Super Phoenix was the big fast reactor. They shut that down in the mid-1990s mainly for political reasons. But they were also having problems. I think one of the panelists mentioned or maybe one of the Congressmen mentioned about fast reactors -- the history of fast reactors. We haven't really had a fast reactor ever operating even at 50 percent power capacity. So these -- it's still unproven technology. Phoenix, though, was designed to be a prototype -- to be a test reactor, and it has served its purpose very well over a number of decades.
REP. HALL: I thank you. Dr. Hanson, I didn't hear your testimony at the beginning. I was at another committee meeting. But at the end of your testimony -- your written testimony -- you talked about areas for research, development, and demonstration and in particular you mentioned reducing the minimal gaseous and liquid discharges that arise -- that might arise from the current processing technologies -- electromagnetic separation and advanced instrumentation. Give us a little explanation of each of these -- not that you make me understand it but we'd have it on the record.
MR. HANSON: Thank you. I'll try very briefly. The -- when you (shear ?) and dissolve nuclear materials you release some of the gases that are included in the fuel, and you can deal with it in a number of ways. One is by discharging them to the atmosphere as long as you stay within regulatory limits, and the other thing that you can do is capture, package, and dispose of them.
We haven't done much research in that capture and control. Basically, it's like carbon sequestration. We haven't done it because we haven't needed to do it. But if we're going to locate a recycling facility in the United States I think we're going to have to meet some very strict limitations on the discharges, and so we need research in that particular area.
We've already talked about research on electrometallurgical separations. That should continue in advance of the fast reactors. With regard to the safeguards, there's no doubt that you have to have safeguards and security associated with these types of facilities. In order to do that you have to have very, very sophisticated instrumentation to measure the flows of material and to make sure that material is not surreptitiously removed from the facilities. There's a lot that can be done in this particular area and I think we could learn a lot from what the U.S. military has done and the national labs in order to make the next generation facility that's built even more proliferation resistant than the ones that are in existence today.
REP. HALL: I thank you. I think my time is up. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. GORDON: Thank you, Mr. Hall. We'll have a test at the end of this hearing. And Dr. Baird is recognized for five minutes.
REP. BAIRD: I thank the chairman. I thank our witnesses. A fascinating topic. If I applaud you and praise you, Mr. Chairman, can I have an extra six minutes? (Laughter.) It is a worthwhile hearing and we're grateful for your expertise.
I want to talk a little bit about the economics. You know, we do have difficult choices before us. I happen to be absolutely convinced that the evidence is clear that the climate is changing, that Earth is overheating, and that the oceans are becoming acidified. So reducing CO2 output makes a lot of sense.
On the other hand, it's not just nukes or CO2. There are a host of other technologies available. Talk to us a little -- I want to raise two quick issues. One, when people say carbon zero, there ain't no such thing. I mean, the net cost to extract uranium, transport uranium, process uranium, build a concrete containment vessel, et cetera, there's a large carbon cost to that. So talk a little bit about that but also talk to us a little bit about subsidies. What -- when we talk about the relative economics of nukes versus alternatives, what kind of subsidies -- government subsidies -- go into the nuclear industry from front to back including insurance, including waste reprocessing, et cetera, and on the research side? Can you share that with us?
MR. HANSON: If I may, I will try and address your first question, leave the second one to the panel. You're absolutely right. When you are trying to compare technologies you need to look at life cycle carbon footprints and not just the emissions from the facility. The nuclear power plants basically are zero emission plants. There is a carbon footprint associated with enrichment and building the plant and doing the mining. However, it is very small.
If you look at the carbon footprint of the available technologies to produce electricity, what you will find is the lowest carbon footprint is nuclear and wind. They are almost identical. The carbon footprint solar photovoltaic is very large, so much so that if you replace all the nuclear power plants with solar photovoltaics you would increase carbon emissions by a factor of five.
You need to look at these things. There are some very good studies that have been done by -- in the U.K. and in the international community to make the comparison, and I would submit that nuclear energy is very, very carbon friendly.
REP. BAIRD: Let's talk a little bit about subsidies -- (inaudible).
MR. FERGUSON: So maybe I'll speak to the R and D part perhaps is the place where I should start. So in the past there was significant investment in R and D in the old breeder reactors days and back in the, you know, 60s, 70s, 80s.
REP. BAIRD: (Let's ?) include fusion in the --
MR. FERGUSON: Yeah. Right. So -- but since the mid-90s -- then R and D went away for quite a while. Then in the mid-90s it started to ramp back up so with a combination of the advanced (fuel cycle ?) -- (inaudible) -- generation -- (inaudible) -- you're looking at about $300 million a year going into R and D in nuclear energy.
MR. PETERS: Two points I'd like to make is that how many nuclear power plants do we need to build to really take a further bite out of climate change. If you look at a study from 2004 from two Princeton researchers, Dr. Stephen Pacala and -- (inaudible) -- Robert Socolow, they -- (worked ?) a so-called wedge model and they break up the climate -- the greenhouse gas emissions increases into seven equal wedges and ask so if nuclear were going to fill one of those seven wedges how many nuclear power plants would you need to have online by mid-century.
You would need to have the equivalent of about a thousand 1,000- megawatt electric power reactors online by that mid-century. Right now, we have about the equivalent -- just a little bit less than 400 of that, you know, amount of plants -- the -- (inaudible) -- plants online. That's an aging fleet. We're going to have to replace those reactors by mid-century.
So we have to build that number of reactors, roughly 400, and build about another 600 in addition. Now, I know AREVA is building the EPR, which is about a 1,600-megawatt electric plant. So -- but the ballpark figure is that you have to build one new 1,000-megawatt electric plant, have it come online every two weeks between now and mid-century to have a further reduction -- a significant reduction in greenhouse gases from nuclear power. Very -- it's not impossible (to do ?) but it's very challenging.
Last time we came close to that in the world was in the early 1980s when France and Japan were building nuclear reactors rapidly. So I just want to put that out there. And then in terms of subsidies, question of can we learn from other countries' experience. As I mentioned, I've been studying the French experience. Is the French model applicable to us? Well, they have very central government control. The French government owns AREVA. They have a controlling stake in AREVA. They own electricity in France.
We don't have that kind of situation in the United States. The French government was able to offer a loan structure to allow France to build now about 58 nuclear reactors that are now operating. We have 104 reactors operating, more than France, but in terms of proportional use the French are ahead of us, about 80 percent to 20 percent. So the question is does it make sense for us, what are the opportunity costs for us, and giving the nuclear industry here in the United States, which is a relatively mature industry, billions of dollars, maybe even hundreds of billion dollars worth of loans to further stimulate nuclear power expansion.
REP. BAIRD: And my main point would be that that cost needs to be factored into the per kilowatt hour, per megawatt hour cost -- the subsidies. (Inaudible) -- say one technology is superior to another on a cost perspective there are a host of subsidies that should -- ought to factor into that.
MR. FERGUSON: Yeah. (We should ?) be in the business of picking winners and losers. Two years ago I published a report -- said that if you want to be supportive of nuclear power you need to get the carbon pricing right either through a carbon tax or cap-and-trade. Set the right price, nuclear will be on equal playing field with coal and natural gas.
MS. PRICE: If you take a look at the current price of commodities in the market today, what you would see is that nuclear with its subsidies and wind and solar with their subsidies and even with natural gas in the 3 (dollars) to $4 range where it's been in the 8 (dollars) to $10 range, nuclear is straight up competitive with natural gas, and if you put a carbon tax on it then it's more attractive and it's more attractive than wind and solar including the subsidies that they currently have today.
REP. BAIRD: It is a grave shame that some of our colleagues are not here to have heard those prior statements. Thank (the chairman and the panelists today ?).
MR. HANSON: If I may, I'd like to make one correction to my friend -- to what Charles said. The nuclear industry, to my understanding, is not asking for billions of dollars of loans from the government. They are asking for loan guarantees for which they will pay, and so unless projects default the net cash flow will be to the government and not from the government.
REP. BAIRD: Coming from the state with works (ph) I would be a little bit cautious about that last statement.
MR. HANSON: Yes. No doubt.
REP. GORDON: Thank you, Dr. Baird. As usual, very good thought and line of questioning. And Mr. Inglis is recognized for five minutes.
REP. INGLIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Dr. Ferguson, that was music to my ears and I agree with Dr. Baird -- that I wish that a lot of our colleagues could have heard some of that last little bit. If you change the -- if you internalize the externalities -- negative externalities associated with some of these fuels that are the incumbent fuels, suddenly technology takes off and we start doing exciting things with very clean nuclear power with no emissions, and it's very, very exciting.
So Dr. Hanson, I think I'm right about this -- I'm not sure. So -- (inaudible) -- just ask the question if you don't know. But our colleague -- a former colleague from Ohio used to tell me all the time that -- Dave Hobson used to be critical of the MOX process, as I recall, and can you tell me what the -- his objection, as I recall, was that what we were doing -- (inaudible) -- he says -- he charges was it's old technology. We should be moving under new technology. I'm wondering what your reaction to that is. Is he right? Is he wrong? Is he --
MR. HANSON: It would be very dangerous of me to try and paraphrase -- (inaudible) -- Representative Hobson's position. But as I do understand it, he was supportive of the concept of recycle. He was not supportive of the MOX project in South Carolina for a number of reasons. In particular, he was very skeptical of the fact that the Russians would do their share, which was to demilitarize at the same pace that we were doing it, and as the Russians slowed down he became skeptical of the whole program.
However, we have very important nonproliferation concerns and obligations under the NPT. We need to start destroying military plutonium and that facility is going to do it. I never heard any criticism from him with regard to the technology. I did hear a lot of criticism of the Department of Energy and its seeming inability to control and bring projects to completion.
REP. INGLIS: Ms. Price, is that your understanding or that the -- what Dave Hobson's objection was, if you remember?
MS. PRICE: I'm sorry. I don't know what his objections were.
REP. INGLIS: Right. What I heard him say, Dr. Hanson, I think, is that he didn't like the technology -- thought that it was old. Is that -- anybody want to comment about whether it is old or is in fact --
MR. HANSON: It's not old. It's state of the art, and I never heard him make that comment.
MR. : But I would say that -- back to what the Russians are doing. So what the Russians have considered doing is actually taking care of the PU (ph) in the fast reactor as opposed to going to MOX and (double ?) recycle. So and this gives you an opportunity -- the fast reactor discussion by the panel, I encourage the committee to look more deeply into fast reactor experience because there is a -- it's a (extensive ?) experience in the U.S. and worldwide and there's currently demonstration fast reactors being constructed in other countries.
So I wouldn't want to say that the -- it's not an unproven technology so I think it would behoove us to look at that much more carefully before we just dismiss it as an unproven technology. I think it needs to be developed further.
REP. INSLEE: Is there a quick explanation of that technology? How does that work? What's the -- what's the --
MR. : It's -- well, there's different ways of cooling. As opposed to being moderated by water it's moderated by perhaps liquid metal like liquid lead or liquid sodium, and the difference is the -- how fast the neutrons travel inside the core. So instead of building up a lot of isotopes higher than uranium you can actually configure the core such that you can burn it down. So it's slow neutrons versus fast neutrons. So in the case of a fast reactor you can use it to actually burn down material and also perhaps -- (inaudible) -- material.
REP. INSLEE: Gotcha.
MS. PRICE: One point I'd like to add to that in the context of whether there's better technology than MOX for addressing plutonium -- if you did burn the plutonium and if you do use the plutonium in a MOX context you still wind up with spent nuclear fuel on the back end that you actually have to then turn around and handle. If you burn it in a fast reactor, you're actually consuming the plutonium and so that's the basis, I would assume, that he would say look, there are technologies that can more completely consume it and reduce the waste that you've got to deal with on the back end.
REP. INGLIS: (Inaudible.) Dr. Ferguson?
MR. FERGUSON: I've been to Japan. I was there a couple years ago. Visited Monju, their fast reactor site. They had an accident on the secondary sort of non-nuclear side of their fast reactor. They used liquid sodium for the coolant, and the property of sodium -- you remember your high school chemistry class where you take some sodium and (you strip of it ?) and you put it in some water. What happens? It goes like crazy -- catches on fire.
So they had a sodium fire at that facility, and Japanese are being very cautious in bringing that facility back up again. They've had some public opposition about that fast reactor. They're trying to educate the public about trying to reoperate that reactor. So that's Japan's experience. I mentioned France's experience earlier to Mr. Hall. So -- but it's a mixed record. I think, you know, Dr. Peters is making a good point here. We need to take a fresh look at fast reactor technology and Ms. Price also makes a good point. It can offer some significant benefits if it's economically effective -- if we can handle some of the safety problems we've had in the past from these reactors.
REP. INGLIS: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
REP. GORDON: Thank you, Mr. Inglis. And once again, let me thank the panel for a very thought provoking and helping to raise our understanding of these issues. We want to continue this dialogue. We thank you for that. And the record will remain open for two weeks for additional statements from members for answers to any follow-up questions the committee may ask the witnesses. The witnesses are excused.