The US Department of Energy’s fiscal year 2011 budget request has been met with mixed reactions by the nuclear industry. The budget request calls for a tripling of the federal loan guarantees available for companies planning to build new nuclear power plants, which was deemed “a tremendously positive development,” by Marvin Fertel president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute. However the industry is “appalled,” by the decision to seek to reinstate a $200 million tax on the industry for the Uranium Enrichment Decontamination and Decommissioning fund, according the industry association.

The FY-2011 budget request, released 1 February, requests an additional $36bn to guarantee loans for nuclear power, on top of the $18.5bn already available. The increase in loan guarantee volume will raise the number of new nuclear plant projects that can participate in the federal government’s clean-energy loan guarantee programme, acting as a “catalyst” for new nuclear construction in the USA, according to Fertel.

The FY-2011 budget request also seeks to reinstate a $200 million tax on the industry for the Uranium Enrichment Decontamination and Decommissioning fund, which has not been welcomed. According to the NEI the industry already has fully met its obligations to that programme, which was established to decommission Department of Energy uranium enrichment facilities in three states. This would mark the third time that the industry has been taxed for this effort, even though it met its $2 billion-plus obligation under a 1992 statute, and the fund has a balance of $4.6 billion.

The industry strongly supports the safety goal but nonetheless is “appalled,” Fertel said, that DOE seeks to reinstate the D&D fund related to the environmental cleanup of facilities that the government built decades ago in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee to enrich uranium for post-World War II defense programmes.

Office of Nuclear Energy

The DOE is requesting $912 million for the Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) in FY 2011 – an increase of 5% over the FY 2010 enacted level. This includes $82 million for defence related activities, with the remainder requested for R&D programmes and to operate and maintain nuclear infrastructure.

Funding is requested for three main R&D projects: reactor concepts development ($195 million); fuel cycle R&D ($201 million) and a new cross-cutting research project to address technology needs for all aspects of nuclear energy production ($99 million).

The reactor concepts research development and deployment programme will support R&D for the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) and Generation IV. In FY-2011 it will also include a new effort focussing on small modular reactors.

Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management

The budget request does not include funding for the DOE used nuclear fuel management programme that for decades has focused on development of an underground repository at Yucca Mountain. DOE has a licence application for the facility pending with the NRC, but the Administration’s budget document states that Yucca Mountain “is not a workable option” and that the programme will be discontinued this year. The core staff will transfer to the Office of Nuclear Energy by the end of FY 2010.

The new DOE budget also includes incentives for renewables with over $108 million in new funding to advance and expand research in the areas of wind, solar and geothermal energies. Funding for fossil fuel technologies has decreased by 20% from $950 million in FY-2010 to $760 million in FY-2011.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has also revealed its budget request for FY-2011. At $1.05bn this has fallen approx 1.5% from FY-2010 due to the reduced volume of licence applications expected in FY-2011.

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