Later this year, scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee hope to take a big step toward solving America's nuclear-waste woes. Pending clearance from the Department of Energy, they will demonstrate a new toxic-waste recycling process.
The aim of the demo—part of a controversial $405-million government project called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP)—is to transform nuclear leftovers into fuel for a new breed of reactors. The new reactor/fuel combo, GNEP officials say, could produce up to 100 times as much energy as conventional reactors and could generate 40 percent less waste. The initiative is a key part of the Bush administration's long-term strategy to meet America's rising demand for electricity—according to the DOE, it's expected to jump by 45 percent from 4,000 billion kilowatt-hours in 2005 to 5,800 billion kilowatt-hours in 2030—without creating more greenhouse gases. "Nuclear energy is the biggest source we have for meeting our energy needs without contributing to global warming," says Sherrell Greene, director of the nuclear-technology program at Oak Ridge.