Or the nuclear elements thereof, anyway. This was written for NEI’s member newsletter, Nuclear Energy Overview, and provides a fairly thorough overview of the nuclear elements of this year’s budget request.
This is just the beginning of the annual process, with the House and Senate due to hold many hearings, grouse about this or that, and vote for more or less money requested by the administration. DOE is not immune from this process, though we wonder whether the nuclear element will not be seen as pleasing to a fairly wide swath of Congress folk. As always, time will tell.
You can pick up a pdf of the budget request here if you want to follow along.
This is original reporting.
The DOE budget proposal for 2011 requests a tripling of its loan guarantee authority for new nuclear power plants, from $18.4 billion to $54 billion.
At the same time, the budget zeroes out the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository project, as the department expects to pull the license application within the month. DOE on Feb. 1 filed a motion with NRC’s licensing board to suspend licensing review for the project.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the increased loan guarantee authority would provide assistance to seven to 10 nuclear power plant projects.
The industry welcomed the increase and highlighted the potential for job creation. “These loan guarantees will serve as a catalyst to accelerate construction of new nuclear plants,” said Marvin Fertel, NEI’s president and CEO, “creating thousands of high-paying, long-term jobs in the process. By supporting new reactors, loan guarantees also will reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing capability for nuclear energy components.”
The loan guarantee program empowers the energy secretary to provide loan guarantees for up to 80 percent of the cost of “innovative technologies” that “avoid, reduce or sequester air pollutants or anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.”
The guarantees are not an actual appropriation and, therefore, do not represent an outlay of taxpayer dollars when the clean-energy projects are successfully completed. In fact, recipients will be charged a percentage fee. The guarantees are designed to boost investor confidence and allow worthy projects to move ahead with financing on more reasonable terms that ultimately will lower the overall cost of electricity generated by those projects.
Chu said the department “is working hard to restart the nuclear energy industry,” with loan guarantees intended to demonstrate to funding agencies that nuclear energy plants can be built without cost or schedule overruns. He said the government would not need to issue further loan guarantees after the first projects go on line, as they will demonstrate the economic feasibility of funding nuclear energy plants.
While the overall program covers a range of energy projects, it now provides $18.5 billion specifically for nuclear energy projects. DOE has not yet issued any loan guarantees under the program.
Chu also announced that DOE requested no funds in fiscal 2011 for the Yucca Mountain repository program, on direction from the administration to withdraw its license application from the NRC for a construction permit. According to the budget request, “The administration has determined that Yucca Mountain, Nevada, is not a workable option for a nuclear waste repository and will discontinue its program to construct a repository at the mountain in 2010.”
Chu said that stopping all work on the repository does not abrogate any aspect of the government’s obligations to safely manage used nuclear fuel and radioactive waste under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, as “the act only requires a path going forward.” He added that last week’s announcement of a blue ribbon commission to explore alternatives to Yucca Mountain “represents that path.”
Other notable budget items:
- A reorganization of budget line items, with some projects such as the Generation IV advanced reactor program zeroed out and others included in new categories such as nuclear energy enabling technologies and reactor concepts research and development.
- The new reactor concepts research and development program would explore ways to extend the life of nuclear energy plants and to study the potential embodied in small, nuclear reactors and of next generation plants to generate process heat for industrial or other uses.
- Nuclear energy enabling technology, another new line item, would focus on potentially transformative technologies in the areas of reactors, fuel cycle approaches and reducing proliferation.
- Nuclear Power 2010, an effort by government and industry to develop a new, faster licensing procedure for new nuclear plants has been zeroed out due to “successful completion.”
- Cuts were made in funding for the Idaho National Labs from $173 million to $162.5 million to reflect the completion of several projects, although the lab received $4 million to process EBR-II used nuclear fuel.
- Re-Energyse, a new program to encourage students to pursue careers in science, engineering and entrepreneurship related to clean energy, would replace the similar Integrated University Program.
- A new International Nuclear Energy Cooperation program within the Office of Nuclear Energy would support the department’s international engagements and other commitments relevant to civilian nuclear energy.
- A grant of $45 million would go to uranium enrichment company USEC while the company prepares to submit a new loan guarantee application for its American Centrifuge project in Ohio.