A plea for the reprocessing of nuclear fuel (1977)

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You don’t have to be a nuclear physicist to understand an electric bill.

The numbers next to the $ sign are a lot higher today than a couple of years ago. And we can expect even bigger bills as prices increase for oil, coal, natural gas — the main sources for the energy we use.

That’s why the world is turning to nuclear power as a practical alternative. Nuclear power can cut our future electricity costs and reduce dependencies on those few countries that control oil production and prices. Thousands of American communities now enjoy power, light and heat from nuclear energy. By 1985, there will be at least 300 nuclear power plants in the US and overseas.

Nuclear power is produced by reactors that run on uranium. After 3 or 4 years the fuel rods in a reactor are spent and taken out. They can be stored away. But they contain plutonium, as well as unburned uranium, and discarding them means losing forever a potential source of energy. However, there is a way to reprocess this material, to generate at least 50% additional electricity instead of simply throwing away this valuable resource.

Right now, there’s only one facility in the entire US – at Barnwell, South Carolina, built by our company in partnership with General Atomic – that is able to evaluate the benefits of reprocessing. At full operation, Barnwell will reprocess spent nuclear fuel from 50-60 reactors every year. This reusable fuel can provide the energy equivalent of almost 70 million tons of coal or nearly 300 million barrels of crude oil a year. That’s a lot of energy that would be wasted without reprocessing.

Reprocessing provides another plus. By significantly reducing the amount of highly radioactive nuclear waste, the need for storage locations is lessened – an environmental as well as economic benefit.

But Barnwell is idle. It can’t get started until the government clarifies its position on nuclear fuel recycling.

Barnwell can establish that effective safeguards can be maintained over the plutonium contained in spent fuel. In doing so, it will go a long way toward providing an answer to the problem of international nuclear arms proliferation.

Recent surveys show that a majority of Americans favor more nuclear power plants. Barnwell is the key to proving that reprocessing can help make nuclear power the choice of the future – an economical, safe and environmentally acceptable answer to America’s need for electricity.

It doesn’t take a degree in nuclear physics to make that choice. Barnwell and the American people are waiting.

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