By GAP Nuclear Oversight Director Tom Carpenter and Institute for Policy Studies senior scholar Robert Alvarez. Note: A version of this op-ed also appeared in the Keene Sentinel (N.H.).

President George W. Bush and his energy secretary, Samuel Bodman, have recently intensified their lobbying to revive “nuclear recycling” through a program they call the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, or GNEP.

This is hardly a new idea. In 1996, the National Academy of Sciences reported on the feasibility of recycling nuclear fuel. It was an intriguing idea because of its promise to reduce the amount of waste that had to be buried, where it could conceivably seep into drinking water at some point in its multimillion-year-long half-lives. But the Academy’s conclusion was unequivocal–- the idea was supremely impractical. It would cost up to $500 billion in 1996 dollars and take 150 years to accomplish the transmutation of dangerous long-lived radioactive toxins.

Now the Bush administration is actively promoting GNEP as a sweeping panacea –- to supply virtually limitless energy to emerging economies, to “reduce the number of required…waste depositories to one for the remainder of this century” and to “enhance energy security, while promoting non-proliferation.” The National Academy of Sciences’ findings have been swept aside, even though the idea is as costly and technologically unfeasible as it was in the 1990s.

Members of Congress, who will soon vote on the president’s request for $405 million for GNEP in fiscal year 2008, should recognize that it has no chance in our lifetimes of brightening the prospects of finding safe ways of nuclear fuel disposal. In 1982, Congress enacted legislation requiring that spent nuclear power fuel be disposed of in ways that shield humans for at least hundreds of millennia.

But today, a quarter-century later, prospects for long-term disposal are dimmer than ever. The government’s nuclear waste disposal program is plagued by scandal, legal setbacks and congressional funding cuts. As a result, the schedule for the proposed Yucca Mountain disposal site in Nevada has slipped by two decades.

Under the president’s plan, the United States and its nuclear partners would sell power reactors to developing nations that agree not to pursue technologies that would aid nuclear weapons production, notably reprocessing and uranium enrichment. To sweeten the deal, the United States would take highly radioactive spent fuel rods to a recycling center in this country.

The foreign reactor wastes, along with spent fuel from the U.S. reactor fleet, would be reprocessed to reduce the amount that would go deep underground. Nuclear explosive materials, such as plutonium, would also be separated and converted to less troublesome isotopes in a new generation of reactors.

In short, using the Bush administration’s fuzzy nuclear math, more would become less.

In fact, however, to reduce the amount of radioactive wastes slated for a deep geological repository, the majority of radioactive byproducts are planned to be stored in shallow burial. The site selected for the GNEP recycling center is likely to become a dump for the largest, lethal source of high-heat radioactivity in the United States, and possibly the world.

If placed in a crowded area, a few grams of these wastes would deliver lethal doses in a matter of seconds. Concentrations could be so large that if they were disposed of under current standards in shallow land burial as low-level wastes, they would have to be diluted to a volume as large as 500 million cubic meters, enough to fill 500 Empire State Buildings. The plan would also threaten water supplies. For instance, it could result in levels of radioactive disposal thousands of times greater than now allowed at U.S. nuclear weapons production sites, which are among the most contaminated zones in the country.

The Bush administration lacks (or at least, has yet to disclose) credible plans for addressing any of the unprecedented health, safety and financial risks that GNEP would create. Unless the administration can furnish these details, the public should urge their legislators to zero out GNEP’s budget.

America is better off by investing in renewable energy and conservation, rather than pouring billions of dollars into the same old limitless energy schemes of our nuclear laboratories.