GNEP has since evolved into an international partnership with 21 partner countries, 17 observer countries and three international observer countries. GNEP operates by consensus among its partners based on an agreed GNEP Statement of Principles.
GNEP has proven controversial in the United States and internationally. The U.S. Congress has provided far less funding for GNEP than President Bush requested. U.S. arms control organizations have criticized the proposal to resume reprocessing as costly and increasing proliferation risks. Some countries and analysts have criticized the GNEP proposal for discriminating between countries as nuclear fuel cycle “haves” and “have-nots.”
In announcing the GNEP Proposal, the U.S. Department of Energy said:
As a research and development program, GNEP is an outgrowth of the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative
Since then, five additional countries have joined:
Seventeen countries have been invited to join GNEP as partners but have not been willing to sign the Statement of Principles and have participated as observers. These include South Africa, although South African Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica stated that "Exporting uranium only to get it back refined, instead of enriching it in South Africa, would be 'in conflict with our national policy.' 25 additional countries have been invited to join GNEP at the October 1, 2008 GNEP Ministerial in Paris, France.
In 2008 Congress allocated less than half of the requested funds, supporting GNEP research but not technology demonstration projects. The Congressional Budget Office assessing that reprocessing spent nuclear fuel would cost considerably more than disposal in a long-term repository.
Some states do not approve of the GNEP philosophy that partitions the world between a few fuel-cycle states and a larger number of receiver states, reflecting the distinctions in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. They are concerned that their nuclear fuel assurance could in the future be subject to external political pressure. They also believe it creates an unfortunate incentive on states to develop enrichment or reprocessing technology now, to position themselves to become one of the future fuel-cycle states.
Steve Kidd, Head of Strategy & Research at the World Nuclear Association, has explained:
An alternative view of GNEP may see it as somewhat discriminatory and potentially anti-competitive. By restricting parts of the fuel cycle to particular countries, albeit with fair rights of access to nuclear materials, there is a risk of maintaining or even reinforcing the existing NPT arrangements that have always upset certain nations, notably India and Pakistan. Similarly, by maintaining a market stranglehold on, for example, enrichment facilities in the existing countries, it can be argued that the market will be uncompetitive and lead to excessive profits being achieved by those who are so favoured.
Another criticism is that GNEP seeks to deploy proliferation-prone reprocessing technology for commercial reasons, and to bypass the continued delays with the Yucca Mountain waste repository project, while erroneously claiming to enhance global nuclear security.