Nuclear, Renewables Spending Up in Senate Budget Bill

WASHINGTON, DC, June 14, 2005 (ENS) - The Senate Energy and Water Subcommittee today approved a $31 billion Energy & Water Development Appropriations bill. The bill funds the Department of Energy and the Corps of Engineers and will be considered by the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

The Senate bill would spend $1.49 billion more than President George W. Bush requested and more than the House has approved in its version of the budget bill. It exceeds the current year level by $1.4 billion.

Domenici

Senator Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, chairs the Subcommittee on Energy and Water of the Senate Appropriations Committee. (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
The bill provides an increase of $100 million above the President's request to support the Department of Energy Science facilities, $240 million above the Presidentís request for the Office of Science, and an increase of nearly a $1 billion above his request for the Army Corps of Engineers.

While the subcommittee raised funding for renewable energy, hydrogen technology and nuclear power above the President's request, the budget for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada was slashed.

Nevada Senator Harry Reid cut the Yucca Mountain budget to $577 million, half of what the Department of Energy said it would need to keep the project on track. As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and the top Democrat on the Energy and Water Subcommittee, Reid writes the bill with his Republican counterpart every year.

Funding for Yucca Mountain in the bill is at the current year levels but is $64 million below the Presidentís request. No language has been included on interim storage of the nation's nuclear waste, now accumulating at the nation's 103 nuclear power plants and dozens of other facilities across the country.

For Nevada, this means Reid is able to cut the funding for the Yucca Mountain project and delay its opening. The entire Nevada Congressional delegation, the governor, and the mayor of Las Vegas are all opposed to the nuclear waste repository.

Reid

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada is a longstanding opponent of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility. (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
ďI donít believe Yucca Mountain will ever open,Ē said Reid. ďEvery year I cut the budget because itís a project thatís fraught with fraud and mismanagement and the more time we have, the more the facts come to light. There is no way to safely open a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain.Ē

For renewable energy research and development the Senate bill provides $1.25 billion, which is $53 million above the Presidentís request and $5 million above the current year level.

If the bill is enacted, hydrogen technology research would be funded at $182.69 million as requested. Biomass research is funded at $92 million, up $20 million above the request, and clean vehicle technologies is funded at $199 million.

The Senate bill provides $449 million for nuclear energy research and development, which is $60 million above the Presidentís request and $64.3 million above the current year level.

Of that nuclear research total, the Nuclear Power 2010 program was funded at $76 million.

fuel

When spent fuel is first removed from a reactor, it is placed in a pool of water contained in a steel-lined concrete basin. After it has cooled somewhat, some commercial power plants and government facilities move it to dry-storage containers. (Photo courtesy DOE)
The Nuclear Power 2010 program, introduced in 2002, is a joint government/industry cost-shared effort to identify sites for new nuclear power plants, as well as to develop and bring to market advanced nuclear plant technologies. The program also aims to evaluate the business case for building new nuclear power plants, and demonstrate untested regulatory processes.

It all leads to an industry decision in the next few years to seek Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approval to build and operate at least one new advanced nuclear power plant in the United States.

The Energy & Water Development Appropriations bill earmarks $45 million for a Next Generation Nuclear Plant which would use advanced technology.

Generation IV nuclear, which would develop more advanced nuclear technology would receive $60 million if the bill becomes law, and the nuclear Advanced Fuel Concepts Initiative would receive $85 million.

National Nuclear Security Administration Nonproliferation activities are funded at $1.73 billion by the Senate bill, which is $91.8 million above the Presidentís request and $305 million above the current year level.

At $368 million, the bill fully funds construction of the country's first MOX nuclear fuel fabrication plant. Mixed plutonium and uranium oxide fuel (MOX) is used to power nuclear plants in Japan and in France, but has never been used in the United States.

The Energy Department plans to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium by turning it into MOX fuel for power generation, and plans a MOX fabrication plant at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, a national laboratory.

The Energy Department is scheduled to begin testing the use of MOX fuel rod assemblies at Duke Energyís Catawba reactor in South Carolina beginning later this spring.

Cochran

Senator Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican, chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will hear the subcommittee's bill on Thursday. He also serves as member of the subcommittee. (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
If the tests are considered successful, a consortium including Duke and the French state-owned company Cogema is expected to ask federal regulators for approval to use MOX in its reactors starting in 2010.

But critics fear the use of fuel made from nuclear warheads in a U.S. commercial nuclear reactor poses security and environmental risks, and could spur U.S. nuclear weapons production.

ďThe world will be less safe if the U.S. government can get away with using plutonium, a strategic military material, in commercial nuclear power stations,Ē according to Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Research Service in Washington, DC. Others worry that MOX fuel fabrication will worsen the nation's nuclear waste disposal problems.

The Senate bill provides a total budget of $734.3 million for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an increase of $41 million over the Presidentís request and $41 million above the current year level. Funding will be used tos upport the licensing of next generation reactors.

The bill would require the Commission to undertake a security assessment of on-site pool storage of spent nuclear fuel.

The bill increases nuclear detection research and development funding by $20 million, and provides $10 million to address emerging threats.

Global Threat Reduction Initiative funding is up $11 million over current levels. This program removes or secures high-risk nuclear and radiological materials and equipment around the world that the government believes pose a threat to the United States and to the international community. One part of the program seeks to eliminate stockpiles of Russian-origin highly enriched uranium, that could be converted into nuclear weapons, by assisting eligible countries to convert their research reactors to low-enriched uranium that cannot be used in weapons.

For environmental cleanup at Department of Energy nuclear facilities, the Senate bill provides $7.3 billion, which is $324 million above the Presidentís request.