The US House of Representatives passed a comprehensive energy bill that includes a number of provisions eagerly sought by the US nuclear industry. The bill, known as the “Securing of America’s Future Energy Act of 2001”, would:
•Modify the tax treatment of nuclear plant decommissioning costs to facilitate the transfer of nuclear facilities to new owners.
•Instruct the Department of Energy (DoE) to study the feasibility of building commercial nuclear power plants at existing DoE nuclear facilities.
•Direct DoE to launch a five-year programme to revitalise University Nuclear Science and Engineering programmes.
•Authorise $60 million in fiscal year ’02 for DoE’s Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (NERI), and such sums as necessary thereafter for FY’03 and FY’04.
•Authorise $15 million in FY’02 for DoE’s Nuclear Energy Plant Optimisation (NEPO) programme, and such sums as necessary thereafter for FY’03 and FY’04. NEPO is an industry/government collaboration aimed at increasing the efficiency of operating nuclear plants.
•Authorise DoE to spend $20 million in FY’02 to study Generation IV nuclear energy systems under the Nuclear Energy Technologies (NET) initiative. The bill calls the Secretary of Energy to assess available technologies, recommend by 31 December 2002 concepts for further development, and devise a plan leading to the selection and conceptual design of a Generation IV system by 30 September 2004.
•Authorise $10 million in FY’02 to study proliferation-resistant fuel recycling technologies as an alternative to aqueous reprocessing.
•Direct DoE to develop a plan for construction of a magnetic fusion burning plasma experiment in the US, or for US cooperation in an international experiment.
In a disappointment for the industry, however, the House rejected a provision to take the Nuclear Waste Fund off budget. Currently, funds contributed by utility ratepayers to the fund are held by the Treasury and counted as assets in determining budget surpluses or deficits.
The SAFE act was “fast-tracked” by House leaders, who hoped for quick passage by avoiding controversial provisions. Meanwhile, House leaders intend to address additional energy issues, including extension of the Price-Anderson nuclear insurance law, during a “second round” of legislation in the autumn.
The Senate plans to take up the “fast track” energy legislation in September. Toward that goal, the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee approved a substantial increase in DoE funding for nuclear R&D programmes of $276 million in FY’02, rising to $342 million in FY’06. The action came during markup of a comprehensive energy bill, S.597, sponsored by the panel’s chairman, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.)