Under the US fiscal 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Act signed into law by President Barack Obama on 18 December, nuclear energy programmes will receive $986m in fiscal year 2016 (ending 30 September), an increase of $80m, or 9%, over the budget request.
The money will be targeted to "critical areas" of innovative nuclear energy research that advances clean air energy and energy security, the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute said in a statement.
In line with the recent White House Summit on Nuclear Energy and the international agreement resulting from the UN climate conference in Paris, the Act supports funding for small modular reactors (SMRs) and the development of new advanced reactors. It provides $141m for reactor concepts research and development, an increase of $30m over the budget request, and $203m for fuel cycle R&D. The small reactor licensing programme will continue to receive "strong support" with funding of $62.5m in fiscal 2016.
The overall funding package, which was the subject of debate and amendment in both the Congress and Senate, also includes a reduced budget for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to better reflect the agency's workload and responsibility to implement efficiencies and reforms that increase transparency and accountability. A total of $990m is appropriated for the NRC. The bill estimates that NRC revenues from licensing fees, inspection services, and other "services and collections" will total about $873m in fiscal 2016. The NRC budget is reduced in line with the agency's decreased workload as it downsizes and reorganises itself under its Project Aim initiative.
The appropriations package sets a deadline of March 2016 for the NRC to submit a plan and timeline for completing the actions needed to facilitate the review of the first application to renew a US reactor's operating licence for a second time, taking reactors to a potential 80-year operating life. The NRC is already preparing for the first such application, which is expected in 2019.
The package rejects a proposal to reimpose a tax on the nuclear industry to pay for the decommissioning and decontamination of uranium enrichment facilities operated by the US Department of Energy during the Cold War.
The integrated university programme that provides support for the nuclear sector's future workforce of the through nuclear education institutes, will receive $5m at the DOE and $15m at the NRC.