Hazel O'Leary
Former Secretary of Energy during Clinton's first term and now a private businesswoman, consultant and attorney.

Q: Before you came into the job of Secretary of Energy, [what] was your understanding of the political image of the nuclear industry in the United States?

A: Well, I was a part of the nuclear industry in the United States, having worked at Northern States Power for four years immediately before coming here. So I well understood the image of the nuclear power industry. I was working (I want to say) valiantly to try and change that image. And in fact, I now discuss it with some degree of modest amusement. One of my last acts at my former employer was to try and convince them that it made no sense to sue the Department of Energy on the question of receipt of spent nuclear fuel, simply because the date had been missed years ago. And my view was, you have a lawsuit and you have a court order in your hand. What does the Secretary of Energy do? Put the waste in his pockets? Then having no idea that I would be the Secretary of Energy, and it would be my pockets that some thought the waste should be carried home in.

But I really understood how difficult the issue was. And if I hadn't understood it, as I went through my process to introduce myself to the Senate of the United States of America--some Senators were sitting on the Energy Committee--I certainly understood it when it was over. Senator Bryan from Nevada being one of the senators who was then and is now sitting on the Senate Energy Committee.

Q:Nuclear power hasn't developed in the U.S. the way its pioneers expected it should. Why do you think this is so? And why has this outcome been so different in places like Japan and France?

A:What I'm very clear about is that the industry, the dream, the vision of this industry powered on energy so cheap that nobody would have to pay for it, was part of the vision of the President of the United States. Atoms for Peace was the Eisenhower dream. The industry certainly embraced it. And you couldn't convince anybody reading the history or becoming a late part of it that we didn't get up and running in an extraordinary way. Nuclear power plants being built and, you know, CEOs sort of posturing to show how quickly they could get to the table with their plans for siting, and convince their boards of directors that these were good, common sense, and economic proposals. So we did well, until the cost got too high. And the cost got too high because the discomfort level, I believe, of the public essentially living nearby nuclear power sites, began to rise to an alarming peak. And I saw that happen. I was mucking around in energy in the '70s. And I think that three things happened, actually.

First of all, was the question about trustworthiness of the technicians, the technocrats who ran these power plants. And as the public, early on got concerned, they began to try to engage, to build some degree of confidence, which normally comes from a knowledge base. You share your knowledge with me. I will understand what you understand. Therefore I will feel comfortable, or make my judgments on that basis. And what we did as an industry was, we talked down to that public. Or worse than that, we talked in acronyms or the language of the scientist or the nuclear engineer. And so the distrust on the part of the public, was heightened by the fact that there was no understanding coming from communication. Because on the side of the industry, the communicators were arrogant or, if maybe one can put a better face on it, they simply had not learned to talk in language that people could comprehend.

I believe that that dovetailed with increased cost occasioned by questions regarding safety. So now you've got operation cost going up. It dovetailed with the environmental movement, where there was a very small but active advocacy group that became opposed to nuclear power. That then exacerbated the siting process, which in the good old United States of America, as it ought to be, involves the opportunity for public input. And if the public is not satisfied with what occurs at the regulatory level, then one is permitted, as should be the case, to go into court and sue. And lawsuit means delay. And anybody who's been involved in siting any major capital project knows that delay means cost.

So all of those things came together at one time. And God help us, just about that same time, as we got to, you know, the late'70s, and the industry began to realize they needed help in licensing and process, and even began to create an arm that could talk about nuclear power to real people, we had Three Mile Island. And I think that raised in the public consciousness an alarm that was real. And it was further exacerbated by this department and its predecessor agency departments, in grappling with the whole question of what do you do with nuclear waste. And as that question has now lingered. I mean, the first study done on, where should we dispose of spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants was completed in 1952, done by a committee for the National Academy of Sciences, who sent us into the salt [dumps]. And as we began that public debate later in the '70s, and zeroed in on 35 or 37 states, people in communities began to look at this whole question of nuclear power and its half-life, thousands of years, to say, "Mm-mm, we don't want it."

And it was a confluence of all of those events that I think has led to a question of, can we afford it? And if you were to add to that, as I go on, the burden of deregulation of the utility system in the United States at retail level.

Q:Which is something that's happening now.

A:Which is occurring in the United States right now, and the truism is that competition leads to reduced cost. And when one looks from the perspective of a business to open competition, when you look at cutting cost, to ask what are your biggest cost liabilities, and then in the United States power industry it is, by and large, nuclear power plants. Not so much on the operating side, because operating cost are relatively low, and sometimes lower than other power sources. But it's the capital costs. It's paying off the mortgage of having built the darn thing in the beginning.

So you've now got this larger catalyst, which makes the future of nuclear power in the United States for, I believe, the coming decade and perhaps the decade after, an unseemly plan. And the language I like to use is, I know of no CEO in this industry who would be bold enough nor unpoliticked enough to go before his or her board of directors and say, "I am today proposing to the board that we build a nuclear power plant." Too large. The demand's not there. Too costly. And the uncertainty around acceptability for siting, and now with competition, whether it will be cheap enough to be the least-cost power generator, would make any executive suggesting such a thought be conceived of as a fool.

Q:What's different about the French and the Japanese? Why have they not had these problems?

A:I think one needs to look at both of those cultures in a different way, and I don't offer myself as a student of those cultures. But let me tell you what I think I've observed in these jobs, starting in the Carter administration. When the need was perceived in both France and in Japan, I think, to be far greater than in the United States, especially with respect to Japan, they clearly understood the economic and national security detriment from being so dependent on imported petroleum. They had fought and lost World War II for those very reasons. So history was a teacher, I believe, to that culture as well. And their decision to go with nuclear power, I think, was built very much on those bases.

The other thing one has to look at is the society and how the society was managed in Japan. My sense is, not nearly as open, not nearly as comfortable with public debate or the challenge of authority as we have, come to understand so well in the United States, particularly since Watergate. You know--you're an official of some sort, or a highly respected business person--it's reason enough for me to challenge you. That is not, until I believe maybe this or last year, in Japan ever been the style or the fashion of the citizens of Japan. And the national imperative carried for years longer than it did in the United States, where the national imperative was, if one goes back to Atoms for Peace, based merely on economics. It was never based on national security. You know, certainty, pride, and survival of a nation.

The French, to me, are different. They are odd. They probably think we are odd. The French, I believe, benefited from what most students of this industry would quickly come to--the standardized standard design of a nuclear reactor. So they pretty much had seen and taken advantage of maybe mistakes in the United States, where we moved away from the cookie cutter and this entrepreneurial spirit caused us to design so many nuclear power plants, creating a lot of trouble in terms of transfer of core competencies, even individuals. So the French started out with a great idea. Let's punch these things out of a cookie cutter. Let's be certain of their reliability and their safety, as certain as one can, by simply dealing with a modest number of uncertainties in design.

And then further, I believe that the French, as they deployed this energy source, kept better control. And maybe they kept control because the growth of the industry never played in the press. There was no opportunity for scrutiny.

Q:You mean, control of public opinion?

A:I do indeed. But not in its worst sense. It simply was not highly elevated in the public consciousness; whereas, in the United States, through the '70s and into the '80s, it was extremely highly elevated.

Now, one has to then go back to Chernobyl in the early '80s, and ask the question: What happened then? And I think, once Chernobyl spewed its poison across Eastern Europe and into Western Europe, and we began to worry about the milk and the products coming from farms in Scandinavia and the like, there was heightened interest and concern. And that almost marries with the development in the growth and popularity of the Green Party in France, and, certainly, in Germany as well. So the public consciousness and the recognition that maybe nuclear power carried with it some inherent distasteful characteristics (inability to manage the risk, high cost, affecting public health) came very late to Western Europe, and has come even later to Japan, if one can characterize what has happened at Monju. And you can't really. I mean, what you have there is an opportunity to see high level officials playing less than open with the facts as they were known to them at the time.

Q:There's a general perception, it seems to me, that this administration has been hostile to nuclear energy.

A: Well, what's to be said about that? I mean, one has to simply look at the budget for our nuclear initiatives on the commercial side, and you could come to a very immediate conclusion: Yep, hostile. Because the budget has diminished over time. I like to look at, again, history. And if one would look at the budget from the prior two administrations, the trajectory was on a downward curve. And I think that reflects the realities. If no one is ordering new nuclear power plants, what's the need in investing in new power plants? And I think what we fought for here, and what I did as Secretary of Energy, was to finish the work on the advanced reactors, which we were going to do. I think that's a very important thing to do, to position the United States to challenge in the international marketplace, where nuclear power plants will be built.

I think the other tag on us would be perhaps that we, you know, we bagged the fast breeder reactor.

Q:By "fast breeder" you mean the IFR? How did you come to your decision?

A:Yes. For several reasons. One, the reality of budget cuts and the necessity to balance the budget. The president was very clear in his State of the Union message in 1993, to say that we had to look with great caution at investments in research and development, simply because we were attempting to balance the budget and to reduce the deficit, which we managed to do for these four years straight, the first two without any help from anyone else. And it had to come from someplace. So I asked myself a question: Why do we want to invest in this reactor for which there is apparently no use for the near term? No industry. You know, I came from the industry. Nobody was saying, "Oh God, wouldn't it be wonderful if we had such a reactor." I thought it was important to finish the near term.

And the other thing I thought it was important to do was to the maximum extent possible in the United States, to continue to invest in certifying and insuring the safety of those inherently dangerous or less safe reactors in the former Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe. It seemed to me for the near term that the safety of reactors outside of the United States, which were under question, was a much more important work to be doing than investing in a reactor for whom there was no customer in the United States of America. So it was a balance, and I believe that it was appropriate for the times. And I'm also extremely proud of the work we've managed to do, now in collaboration with others from Western Europe, and working on making those reactors much safer. So I believe it was the right investment for the times.

And so we're betting on the future of the U.S. industry, the nuclear power industry, not so much in the United States, where there is not the need, but to establish them as competitors in Western and Eastern Europe and certainly in Asia. And I've spent more time working, not so successfully, on trying to end this roadblock between the United States and China, so that we might finally sign the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy Agreement, which has been lying for over ten years, because that's the market opportunity for nuclear power in the United States. That to me is much more important work, because like a good business person, I'm looking: Where's the market and where does the United States have something to offer?

And what we know from our colleagues in China is that they want our reactors. We simply have to overcome these issues of how much what's real help to proliferation? And if there is real help, then we will not countenance that. If, on the other hand, there's help in addressing issues of safety and research that don't lead to building nuclear weapons and rogue states who are as nuclear states aspiring to nuclear weapons power, then we want to be in China. And we want U.S. firms in China.

Q:There doesn't seem to be any real evidence that reactor plutonium is useful for nuclear weapons.

A:But we do have that evidence. And I have reached the point where I'm not only concerned about a nuclear weapon. I'm concerned about the dispersal of nuclear material, which is probably a risk that's much greater today. So my thought of the thing is, we don't need this plutonium being produced. We need to destroy it.

I think a point needs to be made a little more clear, and I'd like to attempt to do it. It wasn't merely that the president, then Jimmy Carter, but the Congress of the United States of America affirmed that policy against the production of plutonium. And you know, to fool ourselves into thinking that this was simply the decision of a president who knew quite a bit about nuclear power, as a nuclear engineer, I think, doesn't tell the full story. The Congress affirmed that in its own legislative act. And that the second time we released information that had been heretofore classified, it was very important to put into the public knowledge that one can build a nuclear weapon with reactor grade plutonium. Those are facts. And we grapple with them today, as we worry about who has acquired what material.

Q:That decision, however, made the waste disposal question in the United States, civilian waste, much more difficult than it might have been otherwise.

A:It's very hard for me to go there. I suspect that if I lived at Savannah River and was looking for a mission (we probably ought to discuss this, too), a mission beyond a cleanup, you know, mucking waste, then the answer might be, yes, because for some reason that's not really clear to me, in the psyche of the minds of citizens and city fathers and mothers around that weapons production site in South Carolina, there's worthy work and unworthy work. And for some reason (damned if I understand why), worthy work is producing implements of war, and unworthy work is cleaning up. Well, we got to come to some closure on that.

But let's come at this another way. Even if we had had reprocessing, we would still have issues, we'd have to deal with issues involving waste. Like it or not, we need a repository. And in the United States of America, the Congress helped us decide that we need it next year. Well, I knew when I took the job that wasn't going to happen. One might say the Europeans and the Japanese have been a lot smarter than that, because their due date is so far off, politicians don't have to grapple with it, with the reality that we have grappled with it. I mean, it was in some parts of the United States was a very critical issue to the election, as people who needed space for spent nuclear fuel in places like Virginia and Illinois and Ohio and Minnesota made this a high agenda item in the election.

I think we don't need to get trapped into the question of whether or not reprocessing would have led us to a more certain future about what to do with waste. Every place I go (and I've lived in many states), most of them having been on that original list of the 37 or 34 states that were under consideration for a nuclear dump (and that's what people call it, so we may as well do that as well)--no one volunteers. And until we in the United States of America can begin to address the questions of risk in a real fashion so that people are now believing us, and if one assumes risk in a community (and we all do), what is the concomitant benefit that has to be given to a community for accepting that risk?

And I want to make a quick segue, because one now needs to look at Carlsbad in New Mexico, where we really will open the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant to take transuranic waste in 1998. My guys tell me that if we're lucky, we may do it in late 1997. In my mind, that is a startling milestone for the United States of America, because we will have finally opened a waste site.

How did the Department of Energy, stumbling, talking in acronyms, less truthful, therefore not earning trust as it should? How did they manage to do that in Carlsbad, New Mexico? I have the answer. By being a part of that community. The community and the people living there were in such isolation, that they had to deal with one another, and they had to with a certain degree of openness and honesty. And finally, they had to deal with: What are the detriments caused by the risk that we're accepting in Carlsbad? And therefore, how does the government mitigate against those risks? Which means providing economic wherewithal for a community. At its worst interpretation, we might presume then that people have been paid to take the waste. The people in that community have decided that taking the waste is a valuable public exercise, for which value should be given to the extent that they are made uncomfortable or they're dislocated. Carlsbad is not a wealthy community. It's a thriving community with an injection of people who are curiously educated in many different disciplines. And I think the presence of those people has enriched that community. And the workers at Carlsbad have not isolated themselves from the town. Often at our complexes, because they've been built in secrecy in the early '50s (which was not the case with Carlsbad), the community has been separate and apart, and it has been richer (the scientific government community has been richer than town folks.) That has not been the case in Carlsbad.

Q:One of their arguments is, "We don't have any nuclear reactors in Nevada. Why should we be the place that has to deal with the waste?" Is the siting process scientific or is it a political process?

A:In this business, I get asked questions and insist that we do our analysis on the basis of the technology, on the basis of the economics, and then there's a highfalutin word that we use, called the "institutional barriers". To me, the biggest piece of that is politics, not at its worst, maybe at its best, because we're so involved with ensuring that everyone has a right to be heard, and we use the system until we have come to the ultimate review, which is at the Supreme Court. And politics then, whether you make that a capital P and call it lofty, or a small p, always plays in issues that impact lives of people.

I know exactly what happened in the case of Nevada. And the person who tells it most eloquently is Ed Markey, the congressman from Massachusetts. And he's enraged when he tells it. He says, "You know exactly what happened, because it happened in this very committee." And I will see if I can remember. Tennessee was on the list. Texas was on the list. I think there were three. And also Nevada, when it came to what was then called the House Commerce Committee. It's now House Energy and Commerce Committee, in the subcommittee that has oversight for our work here today. He says, "And we stuck it to Nevada because they had fewer votes." Now, that's an interesting way to characterize a long process.

But history also tells me that Nevada and the test site was on the first list, which was created well before that selection process which was built out of what, I want to say, was the law that was passed in 1980. Nevada was early on, on a site selection list in the late '50s, in the late '60s. And the reason was because we had blown the hell out of Nevada in nuclear tests.

But they forget in Nevada that they have the test site. And to see the distance, precious little, between the test site and Yucca, and to fight with a delegation who was unhappy that we stopped blowing holes underground at the test site, I mean, they raised bloody hell when we came with the decision, no more nuclear tests which meant no economic return to the test site. So it was OK to drill holes in the ground and detonate weapons underground, but not to truck less than 30 miles away and store the stuff forever.

Now, what I know about these issues is, we're not rational. And I suppose that if I were a citizen of Nevada, or the governor, or working in the office of the governor, I would do exactly what has been done for these many years. I would scream "no" at every step.

Q: But isn't there economic benefit from the Yucca Mountain project?

A:There is, yeah, but the economic reality in Nevada is that no matter what the detriment to this land that gives new definition to the word "desolate and isolated", if Yucca Mountain is proximate to Las Vegas ... so if you're sitting in the capital in Nevada, it's very hard for you to look at any economic detriment and therefore benefit to offset, that could ever come up to the economic benefit created by this mirage of this wonderland, this Sodom and Gomorrah on the desert of Las Vegas. And that's what I mean, that's what you have to deal with. That's an economic reality that one cannot overcome.

Q:Is that site likely ever to open?

A:I think it will. Last year this time, I was saying that we're about 50% there. I wish I could jump up and run in that other room and get you a little desktop doodad that was given to me about three months ago. It's a rock taken from mile four, where we've been characterizing the mountain. My guys who run this program at Yucca tell me that maybe by the spring, we'll be through the mountain. We will have burrowed through five miles of the mountain. We'll actually have enough information to pull together binders this high to present to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1998, so that this viability study can proceed. So we're on our way.

Q:But I'm thinking of the politics, and particularly Nevada's resistance. They speak, for example, of the trouble they could raise by talking about the transportation dangers.

A:The latest line I've heard is "the mobile Chernobyl" about anything nuclear that moves along our transportation system. But the reality, Richard, as you and I know, is, we've been moving things nuclear since the '50s, generally with little public knowledge or fanfare, and no danger. Again the the value of having worked in the industry is to allow me to say with certainty that I know that when we build a transportation vehicle [in] a package, which is the case with the stuff that we move around for the military, or the transporter for spent nuclear fuel in the commercial industry, these things survive plane crashes, train wrecks. And the only way you make people comfortable with that is to continue to share that knowledge. But that will be the next battleground.

Let me say this. I am convinced that if the science tells us that all of the requirements within the statute can be met at Yucca Mountain, then Yucca Mountain it will be, because 34 states with 34 governors and attorneys general and their state commissioners, and suddenly the people living by their nuclear reactor sites want the stuff at home moved to this central repository. That's number one.

Number two, and in my mind, if I had been a smarter Secretary of Energy, I would have caught it earlier: We are now congratulating ourselves as we begin to get control of this special nuclear material, the stuff the nuclear weapons are made of. To get control of it is to decide how to dispose of it, which means what do you do to encase it so that it can be buried? All of that material has to go to Yucca, or has to go to a repository. And we've gotten tangled in our underwear to talk about commercial spent nuclear fuel, and that then gives us permission as a nation, if we'd like to cast these executives of nuclear power plants and their companies as evil people. Let's now remember, it was President Eisenhower who said that we should. Nobody was probably evil. I mean, he was one of the most beloved presidents in the world. We've got to now move away from that as we focus on the weapons material. It's got to go down the same hole. And that's the debate that will carry the day.

And so part of that broad community that's been thought of as anti-nuclear is also in favor of non-proliferation of special nuclear materials. At some point, we have to come together. Everyone needs a repository.

Q:And indeed, they're also talking about burning up the plutonium, the weapons plutonium.


Q:If it's OK to burn up weapons plutonium and get useful energy out of it presumably, why isn't it OK to burn up spent fuel? Why don't we reprocess that plutonium as well?

A:I'm not clear that we're going to sell power if we burn up plutonium. I'm not clear on that yet. And the reason I'm not clear on it is because of the politics with the big P. If the real intellectual, heartfelt, almost religious opposition to burning plutonium has to come from its production of power, why don't you give that away? Now, the industry, they paraded in here after I said that on MacNeil Lehrer. I said that, and almost that the instant I was out of that studio, my car phone was ringing with the industry, saying, "My God, what has this mad woman done," somehow thinking this was the opportunity for the rebirth of the nuclear power industry in the United States of America. I don't read it as such. I think, first of all, we have to answer those questions to get the consensus in the United States about whether we chew up this plutonium in reactors. Well, O'Leary has finally learned after an 18-year history of the Department of Energy spending billions of dollars betting on one technology that bombs at the end (you should excuse the pun), that it probably makes a good idea to find two technologies, and to answer as many questions as you can--whether it's viable, off the bench and into demonstration, what are the economics, and what's the public appetite (with a big P)--to get those questions answered. And if, for the chewing up of plutonium in a reactor, there's no comfort level, and people cannot make the distinction between using the reactor to get rid of plutonium, as opposed to reprocessing it and to continue to having it around, then we've got to go another way. But I believe that if you talk in plain English or any language to people about the difference between those two goals, one reactor to chew it up and get rid of it forever, people will come to understand that. And that's the goal, to get rid of this stuff.

Q:If you burn it in a reactor, do you just let the energy go up the chimney? Wouldn't one want to make electricity from it?

A:Well, of course, the simple thing is to do so, but I don't know if you'd get that in your deal. So I'm saying, let's keep this issue on the table. Now, we might examine it and it'll be too expensive. What I suspect is, you're not going to get 20 or 30 reactors to chew up plutonium.

Q:Well, let's take it at another level. If you want to get rid of plutonium, doesn't it make more sense to burn it up?

A:I think it makes more sense to dispose of it in a way that creates [an] international, at least, bilateral agreement. And the Russian Federation and the United States of America have to be clear about what the ultimate disposition is. And if we have disagreement, it will not serve the world, because Russia and the United States have to trod this difficult and expensive road together. So I'm not sure yet. But at least we've set the stage to run these two show ponies side by side. And we've got to take people with us as we go. This is not an agreement that serves the world or the United States best if the comfort level is only sought and found in the United States of America. It has to occur in Russia as well.

Q: Have we, as a society, passed the point where we can ever view plutonium as a sort of a substance with utility, that can generate energy?

A:It's trash in the United States. It's interesting, because maybe about a year ago, our friend Bill [Broad] and somebody from The New York Times, did a wonderful story with me and Minister Michaelov

But he and the Russian Federation (and I do mean the prime minister as well, Yeltsin, President Yeltsin as well) see almost a plutonium society, a plutonium economy. It is a treasure. In the United States, the public may be not as fully informed as one would want them to be. They have come to the correct conclusion, I believe, that this is deadly stuff that must be gotten rid of.

Q:Do you feel that it's deadly? Deadly for what?

A:Weapons. And when I talk about a weapon, I'm not talking about the sophisticated nuclear bomb. I'm talking about a dispersal device which I could probably craft. And it needs to be gotten rid of. Now, what is the sadness in this thing? The sadness in the thing is that there are two nations who spent these many decades foolishly creating this stuff, when we could have created monuments to science and technology. If a nation now has made the investment and bet on reprocessing, like France and Japan, it is very difficult to pull away from it. The United States has not made that large investment in reprocessing. We stopped short of that. So we can now visit the questions of safety and non-proliferation and international terrorism, because that's what we would call it. And I can't, even after four years, I'm a great student, and I've learned a lot here, which is why I love this job so much. And I have really balanced both sides, and I have been, I think, unique in wanting to put people who violently disagree with one another, either in terms of technology or theology or religion or passion around these issues, to put them at the table together. I am certain that we're on the right course.

Q:The other thing to clear up is why, from a proliferation standpoint, burning it so that it's gone is worse than sticking it in the ground, where it might still be accessible. It's still in the world if you bury it.

A: I'm open on that question. And I have described this two-year period where everyone gets to come to the table again, and I'm almost as clear as I know how to be that with Secretary Pena, who's now the Secretary Designate, that he will invite this debate. Our thoughts should be greatly colored by who comes along with us from the international community. There are four other nuclear weapons states, and there has got to be comfort that we've made the right decision.

I want to go further, because one of the things that's given me great hope in my relationship with the Russian Federation, and now with the French and maybe even the Germans and certainly the Canadians, is, we're beginning to look at this question of plutonium disposition almost in a multilateral way. And we haven't come to closure yet on that. But we've been engaged now with the Russians for two years on the work done by President Clinton and President Yeltsin to set us to thinking about how we dispose of plutonium. I mean there was no agreement to begin with. But our guys in the white coats, our technicians, have now been meeting for almost two years. We've gotten four projects to identify, one of which includes vitrifying plutonium and chewing it up in a reactor. This is progress. And this is the kind of work that needs to be done. When I was in Vienna in September, we were deeply engaged on the side bar with the Germans, talking to the French about the possibility of expanding this work. And it's silly not to collaborate.

And the pity of this in the United States, with the majority of the Congress being sort of in an anti-multilateral mood, saying, "We will decide here in the United States. The Congress was, for reasons that I'm not clear on, at least the majority of them, have failed to recognize that as we've been busily growing here in these 50 states, we're globalized, both an economy and certainly in terms of our national security. So that's part of the lesson that we've got to learn from each other as we go forward on that piece, too.

Q:It's curious that of the five nuclear weapons states, we're the only one who doesn't reprocess plutonium.

A:You're going to have to deal with waste in reprocessing, as well.

And you know I have scheduled trips to France to see their facility. Never done it. But I certainly have been to Sweden, because it's easier to do on the way from the Soviet Union. What I know about the well touted program in Sweden is that these steps of engaging the community have taken them where they need to go on providing interim storage. That's all they've got. They've got interim storage. Now, nice to have. The community's comfortable living with the facility. It to me looks like a wet pool storage from my own power company. I'm going, "This is what I came this far to see?" The miracle there is that they've got storage and people are comfortable with it. I think that is the miracle.

Then I went to look at the wet rock laboratory under the sea in Sweden. And I thought to myself as I'm standing there so many miles underground, it's a mine. I know a mine when I see one, because I've been in our salt mine at Carlsbad. And I'm thinking, "There's water dripping in here. And no one in the United States would be comfortable with that concept."

So in point of fact, in Europe and in Japan, the struggles and the solutions all come to: Where is that hole underground? Is it wet rock? Dry rock? Salt? A geologic site without any of that? But the issues are the same in all of these countries, reprocessing notwithstanding. You've got to ultimately get rid of the stuff.

Now, your quarrel will be--and let me make it for you--well, there'll be less of the stuff to worry about. Well, less hot stuff. But in my experience, it's hard to get a community comfortable with low level waste, high level waste. Doesn't matter to them. And maybe my problem is that I've been at it so long and I grew up in this culture where the decision had been well or poorly thought out, that reprocessing was not the goal of the United States. But I am clear that we're on that for non-proliferation reasons. And this is interesting, because I know you're going to air this in April. And I was saying earlier today that I felt a lot freer as an individual because I'm now speaking as an individual. I'm not speaking on behalf of this administration. We'll have to relitigate the question of reprocessing. But I'm clear, against the backdrop of a nation now concerned because eight or nine pounds of plutonium, these issues of proliferation will drive us mad. And they ought to. They will drive us to the right conclusion.

Q:Wouldn't the Integral Fast Breeder deal with the longevity of the waste?

A:One, I'm not sure we were ever going to get there with the Integral Fast Reactor. But the other thing I was very clear on: It was the wrong bet for us. Were we going to invest more in a technology for which there's no will in the United States for investment? The answer is, no. That was a pragmatic judgment made against a history of looking at a Department of Energy I presided at the death of the superconducting supercollider. And I walked into that town in Texas with 2,000 very large, unhappy men, to have them throw their keys at me (at my feet, thank God), and explain to them that this project was lost, and then try to work on helping them build new lives. Actually, I brought some reason to that very angry crowd. But that made a big impression on me, that when the United States of America sells poorly its concept, and cannot take these long-term expensive projects to completion, then not only do we fail at those goals, but we fritter away money for which there is public consensus.

Q:Do you think nuclear power has a future in the United States, in the short term and/or long term?

A:I'm clear that it doesn't in the short term, because one only has to, you know, be in touch with the Association of the Electric Utilities here in the United States, to understand that no nuclear power plants have been ordered for the next ten years. At my age, that's pretty short-term. For the longer term, I believe that there is an opportunity. And much of it will be occasioned by the technology we're now developing in these advanced reactors, which I hope that we will have opportunity to deploy internationally. The things that will drive it will always be cost. Can a nuclear power plant, a small modular plant, become the least cost plant in the, you know, 2010, 2020?

Let's add one other agenda item. Let's add the question of the environment. And if we are correct on global warming, or we simply begin to address all the question of air particulates, then there is a role for nuclear power to play. There's a lot of if's.

Q:So nuclear power will be wonderful, down the road somewhere?

A:Well, I haven't said wonderful. I've said that there are these many uncertainties. And if the uncertainties can be answered to the positive, then I think, yes, there is the opportunity.

home | did you know? | maps & charts | interviews | readings | glossary | reactions | faqs | join in
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation
PBS Online