Funds approved for stalled US federal projects

15 July 2014

Funding for licensing of the Yucca Mountain repository and for construction of the MOX plant are included in the fiscal 2015 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act. The bill has been approved by the US House of Representatives but awaits final approval by the Senate.

The legislation provides annual funding for national defence nuclear weapons activities, the Army Corps of Engineers, various programs under the Department of Energy (DoE) and other related agencies.

The House of Representatives approved the bill for FY2015 (beginning 1 October 2014) in a 253-170 vote on 10 July. The bill totals just over $34 billion, $50 million below the amount appropriated in fiscal year 2014 and $327 million above President Barack Obama's budget request.

Total funding for the DoE comes to $27.3 billion, about the same as in FY2014 and $1.1 billion below the budget request. Funding for energy programs within the DoE - including basic science research and applied energy programs - is $10.3 billion. Some $900 million has been allocated for research related to nuclear energy. In addition, the total includes $5.6 billion for environmental management activities, including decontamination and decommissioning of US uranium enrichment facilities.

Zero budget proposals

The funding approved by the House also includes $150 million for the DoE and $55 million for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to "support continued adjudication" of the licence application for the Yucca Mountain high-level waste repository in Nevada. The Administration had proposed to "zero out" funding for the program.

In addition, $1.5 billion in funding has been allocated for defence nuclear non-proliferation activities, some of which can be used to continue construction of the mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel plant in South Carolina. Under a 2000 agreement with Russia, the plant was to be constructed to blend uranium with 34 tonnes of US surplus weapons-grade plutonium to produce MOX fuel for use in domestic power reactors. The DoE's budget request for FY2015 had not included funding for the plant.

Energy policy

In reviewing the budget request by the Obama Administration, the House of Representatives appropriations committee said: "Unfortunately, this budget request once again fails to reflect a coherent energy policy or plan for this country. The President continues to highlight an 'all of the above' energy portfolio in his speeches, but fails to present such a balanced approach in his budget requests."

It added, that "inconsistencies can be seen in the Administration's proposal to reduce core research funding for nuclear energy, which will continue to be a vital base load electricity source in future years, and the Administration's wilful disregard of the federal government's legal responsibilities regarding Yucca Mountain."

The Washington DC-based Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) welcomed the appropriations approval. Alex Flint, NEI's senior vice president for governmental affairs, said that the funding package "supports nuclear energy as part of a diverse electricity mix." He added, "The committee's commitment to progress at the Yucca Mountain repository for used nuclear fuel management, its support for workers at the MOX fabrications facility in South Carolina, and its investment in research and development for advanced-design reactors are immensely important."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News