WASHINGTON -- President Reagan issued a strong pro-nuclear policy statement Thursday, lifting the ban on commercial recycling of spent reactor fuel and calling for speedier power reactor licensing.
The administration policy statement, which has been under revision for months, also called for aggressive breeder reactor development at public expense and swift action to demonstrate the feasibility of high-level atomic waste disposal and to locate, develop and license a permanent national high-level waste repository.
'Nuclear power has become entangled in a morass of regulations that do not enhance safety but that do cause extensive licensing delays and economic uncertainty,' Reagan said.
One of the main industry complaints is about the elaborate steps to licensing that now take 12 years.
Nunzio Palladino, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said at a White House briefing for reporters he plans a series of reforms, including consideratton of a one-step licensing process that he hopes will reduce by one-third the current 12-year licensing period.
Palladino said he expects in the next few years to license 33 new reactors currently under construction.
The president called for an independent task force to study the financial plight of the nuclear and utility industries and to recommend remedies.
The announcement drew immediate criticism from Critical Mass, an arm of Ralph Nader's Public Citizen group, and other opponents of nuclear power, particularly the lifting of the reprocessing ban.
To set an international example, President Jimmy Carter banned commercial reprocessing of spent power reactor fuel in 1977 because of fears the sensitive technology would permit plutonium to be diverted for clandestine weapons programs in some countries.
None of the three U.S. commercial reprocessing centers -- West Valley, N.Y., Morris, Ill., and Barnwell, S.C. -- are currently operating.
An early draft of the Reagan policy statement would have had the government guarantee the economics of commercial reprocessing ventures with an agreement to purchase the recovered plutonium and uranium for the Clinch River Breeder Reactor.
The proposal was sharply criticized as an unwarranted subsidy, and a later draft called only for a study to determine whether it would be feasible to obtain the plutonium through competitive bidding.
Energy Department officials have said there might not be enough plutonium to meet the needs of both the breeder and the bomb-making programs later in the decade unless steps are taken now to boost supplies.
Asked whether the government planned to use plutonium from spent civilian reactor fuel to make bombs, Energy Secretary James Edwards said at the same briefing, 'Not at this stage. It is a way to proceed.'
Critics charge that any diversion of spent civilian fuel for the weapons program would obliterate the carefully erected institutional barrier between the peaceful atom and the bomb, making every reactor into a bomb factory.
They also charge that such a policy would all but wreck existing international safeguards against the spread of nuclear weapons made from materials diverted from civilian power programs.
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a nuclear foe, called the policy 'creeping nuclear socialism' and a 'program of nuclear boosterism and government intervention to aid the sagging nuclear industry.'
He accused the president of 'urging less safety regulation, less public scrutiny of the atomic program, but more taxpayer dollars thrown into the nuclear corporate pot.
'What's more, he is urging a policy which will lead to the production of tons of lethal plutonium which can be diverted to nuclear bombs evenby unsophisticated terrorists,' said Markey.