NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Opposition To Nuclear Recycling

December 22, 1999

Plans by the Clinton administration to recycle nuclear materials are running into opposition from just about every powerful interest group -- including labor unions, industrialists and environmentalists. Also, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress are raising questions.

The idea was to recoup some of the billions of dollars spent on nuclear weapons during the Cold War, but administration officials appear to be backing off their plans.

A coalition of trade groups representing the metals industries would support a recycling plan only if the Department of Energy uses all the recycled material itself, rather than selling it for private use.

  • DOE has about 1.4 million tons of irradiated metals it want to clean up and recycle from all its nuclear facilities.
  • They range from office furniture to mountains of nickel used to collect atoms of U-235.
  • The Department of Defense has between 50,000 tons and 100,000 tons that it wants to recycle.
  • The utilities industry has 730,000 tons left over after decommissioning power plants.

While experts contend there is no risk to the public from recycled nuclear materials used in consumer products, they admit that public perceptions could be a problem. In fact, recycled nickel ingots emerge cleaner than some store-bought products, such as bananas, which have a slight degree of natural radiation. About 30,000 tons of formerly irradiated scrap is currently being recycled every year without public harm, experts report.

That raises the ire of environmentalists who protest that it doesn't matter if the materials emit less radiation than many household items. They claim that whatever is emitted just adds to public exposure.

Source: John J. Fialka, "Plan to Recycle Nuclear Materials Runs into Flak from Unions, Industry and Environmentalists," Wall Street Journal, December 22, 1999.


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