Two US senate committee chairmen have introduced separate, and somewhat similar bills that are intended to provide financial incentives to increase the output of existing US nuclear plants, while at the same time, laying down the foundation for possible future nuclear plant construction.

On 26 February 2001, Senator Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska), the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, introduced the National Energy Security Act of 2001. Murkowski’s bill, which addresses nuclear energy as part of a comprehensive solution to US energy concerns, would: •Extend the Price-Anderson nuclear insurance law until 2012.

•Allow the DoE to pay owners of existing nuclear plants up to 10% of the cost of capital improvements designed to boost electrical output by at least 1%, up to $1 million per plant.

•Authorise DoE incentive payments to nuclear plant owners up to $2 million per plant.

•Boost funding of DoE’s Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (NERI) to $60 million, Nuclear Energy Plant Optimisation (NEPO) programme to $10 million, and Nuclear Energy Technology Department (NETD) programme to $25 million.

•Create an Office of Spent Fuel Research within the DoE to conduct research on innovative technologies for spent fuel and high-level waste.

•Change the tax code in order to permit the costs of temporary spent fuel storage to be treated as a deductible operating expense rather than as a capitalised cost.

Meanwhile, further to our report in the March 2001 issue of NEI, Senator Peter Domenici (R-New Mexico), the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has also introduced a stand-alone nuclear energy bill, The Nuclear Energy Electricity Supply Assurance Act of 2001.

The Domenici bill, which the New Mexico senator said builds upon Murkowski’s approach, contains many of the same nuclear-related provisions, but differs in detail.

For example, Domenici’s bill would similarly extend the Price-Anderson law, boost funding for DoE nuclear research, and offer financial incentives to help nuclear plant owners who uprate the capacity of their reactors. However, it contains none of the financial incentives offered in the Murkowski bill for plant owners who achieve increased year-to-year output.

Domenici’s bill takes a bolder approach in planning for future nuclear plant construction. It would authorise the DoE to build three pre-approved nuclear plant sites in jointly-funded government/industry demonstrations of the NRC’s early site permit process. It would also authorise DoE to invite industry proposals to develop the conceptual design of a generation 4 nuclear plant system by 2004.

Domenici said his bill would also create “a level playing field” for nuclear energy.

It would designate nuclear- generated electricity as “environmentally preferable” for the purposes of federal purchasing programmes, and it would bar federal funding for international organisations, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Export-Import Bank, if they exclude consideration of nuclear energy.

Domenici’s bill further offers assistance to help the US nuclear fuel industry, authorises grants to support university nuclear engineering and related programmes, and reforms several outdated NRC regulations and licensing procedures. Amongst other things, it would bar DoE from selling any surplus uranium or conversion services through to 2006, and authorise DoE to place the Portsmouth gaseous diffusion enrichment plant in cold standby for five years.