Federal funding for nuclear programmes the US nuclear industry considers vital, was mostly restored by a House-Senate conference committee.
The measure includes $288 million for nuclear energy R&D programmes at the US Department of Energy – a compromise between the $265 million proposed by the House and the $297 million sought by the Senate. The total includes $22.5 million (rather than $25 million) for the DoE’s Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (NERI), aimed at improving the cost, safety, waste management and proliferation resistance of nuclear energy systems.The bill also provides $28 million for the Fast Flux Test Facility and $5 million for the Nuclear Energy Plant Optimization joint industry/government programme.
The decline in funding, although less painful than it would have been under the House version, runs counter to the recommendations of the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. PCAST had urged Congress to add $10 million annually to the NERI programme to support collaboration on international R&D.
For civilian nuclear waste disposal activities, a separate category, the House-Senate conferees approved $240 million for the Nuclear Waste Fund, far closer to the $242.5 million sought by the Senate than the $169 million proposed by the House. The Nuclear Energy Institute, the American nuclear industry’s trade association in Washington, DC, had warned that the House version threatened significant schedule delays in the US waste management programme and might have shut it down altogether.
The conferees sharply cut funding for programmes to dispose of fissile nuclear materials, approving only $173 million instead of the $190 million sought by the House and the $205 million sought by the Senate. The cuts reflect delays that stem from problems the DOE has acknowledged with a technology it planned to use to reduce the amount of liquid HLW requiring disposition. The compromise bill does include $5 million proposed by the Senate to support a joint US-Russian development programme on gas reactor technology that can dispose of excess plutonium from Russian weapons.
For the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the House-Senate conferees approved $465 million, which was close to the $465.4 million sought by the Senate. The House had sought only $455 million for the NRC. The total includes $19.1 million to be derived from the Nuclear Waste Fund for work to characterise Yucca Mountain.