Congress voted on an omnibus appropriations bill that basically funds the entirety of the federal government for the next year. Naturally, our interest lies with the nuclear energy portion of the Department of Energy’s budget.
The executive summary is that the total is more than requested by the Obama administration earlier this year; the accident in Japan has been acknowledged in the budget but how to proceed has been largely left to processes already in place – the NRC’s Near-Term task force, for example; and Yucca Mountain, dead or alive, is not funded.
Here are the details:
The appropriations bill provides $769 million for nuclear science and technology, higher than the president’s $754 million and a sharp increase from the $584 million approved initially by the Senate.
Of particular note is the restoration of $67 million for small reactor development and licensing, which the Senate had earlier zeroed out. Under a cost-shared government-industry program, DOE will select two designs to shepherd through initial NRC technical reviews and licensing.
The legislation provides $187 million for fuel cycle research and development programs, almost $34 million more than originally requested by the president. These programs are likely to become more central to the industry as DOE acts upon the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, which will in January finalize its report on managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle.
A last-minute DOE request for funding support for USEC’s American Centrifuge Plant in Ohio failed to be included in the final bill, despite support from the Senate and the president. DOE and both the state’s Senators had sought funding for further development work on the uranium enrichment facility.
Funding for USEC could be revisited when Congress reconvenes in January.
The bill provides $59 million for the Advanced Fuels Program, an increase of $12 million from 2011, to accelerate development of new cladding materials for nuclear fuel.
Many defense-related nuclear energy items received increases over 2011 in a year marked by more stringent budgeting priorities. For example, defense environmental cleanup would receive $5 billion under the bill, $11 million more than in 2011. Nuclear nonproliferation would receive $2.3 billion, $110 million above the 2011 level; and naval reactors would receive $1.08 billion, $141 million higher than in 2011.
The appropriation for DOE is $25.7 billion, $2.1 billion more than what was approved by the House, but $3.9 billion below the Obama administration’s request.
Other funding includes:
- $40 million for the Next Generation Nuclear Plant. The House committee had budgeted $63.5 million for this program.
- $5 million for the Integrated University Program for DOE and $15 million for NRC. The House committee had budgeted these amounts for this jointly administered program, but the Senate originally had eliminated the funds.
- $155 million for Idaho National Laboratory, $5 billion more than the administration’s request.
- $1.027 billion to the NRC, about $11 million less than requested by the administration. Much of the NRC’s funding is paid by fees collected from licensees. Some $2 million of the appropriation is for a National Academy of Sciences study on lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident, as recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission. For the second year running, no funds have been allocated for the Yucca Mountain project.