New technology supported in US budget request

14 February 2012

The development of small modular reactors and domestic uranium enrichment technology has received support in US budget requests for fiscal year 2013. However, industry complained that cuts are being proposed to the funding of university nuclear programs and that a levy to fund the cleanup of legacy enrichment facilities would be re-imposed on nuclear companies.

The presidential budget request traditionally submitted to the US Congress in early February reveals policy initiatives as well as setting out proposals on how the money is going to be found to fund them, although the final allocations will be decided after consideration and debate in the US Congress.

The Department of Energy's (DoE's) share of the budget request amounts to $27.2 billion, up 3.2% from the current budget of $26.3 billion. However, nuclear energy's portion of that, at $770 million, is $88.3 million down from the actual appropriation approved for fiscal 2012.

Included within the DoE's nuclear energy budget is $65 million to support design and licensing for small modular reactors (SMRs). Some $67 million was allocated in the FY2012 budget for the same program. The DoE noted that this program "may help accelerate the commercialization of these SMRs and if so, help meet energy security and climate change goals." In addition, a further $73.3 million has been requested for the DoE's program to support research, development and demonstration (RD&D) of advanced reactor concepts, including SMRs and high temperature gas cooled reactors.

Meanwhile, $175.4 million has been requested for the DoE's fuel cycle R&D program. This includes $60 million for continued R&D to "enable storage, transportation and disposal of used nuclear fuel and all radioactive wastes." The DoE said that this work "aligns with the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future."

President Obama's commitment to enhanced nuclear security and non-proliferation is reflected in a request for $11.5 billion in FY2013 for the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The NNSA's Nonproliferation and Verification R&D program budget increases to reflect a one-time addition of $150 million "to support domestic uranium enrichment RD&D [that] will allow us to demonstrate technical leadership as we build a new framework for international nuclear cooperation, better understand the scale-up limits of uranium enrichment technologies for enhanced efficiency and to better assess potential proliferation of new uranium enrichment programs around the world."

USEC president and CEO John Welch welcomed the funding request, saying: "The DoE first proposed the RD&D effort last year to demonstrate the technical and financial readiness of moving the American Centrifuge toward commercial deployment. Since then we have been working with Congress and DoE to put the necessary funding in place." However, he noted that it is "important to remember that interim funding for this program is only available through March 2012 and we must still get RD&D funding for the remainder of the government fiscal year 2012 to ensure that we can continue this vital activity."

USEC said that the RD&D program will support building, installing and operating a 120-machine cascade and related support systems that will be replicated in 96 identical cascades in a full commercial plant in Piketon, Ohio.

Meanwhile, the US nuclear regulator, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), has requested $1.05 billion in its FY2013 budget proposal to Congress, $15 million more than allocated in FY2012. The request includes $809 million for nuclear reactor safety, $232 million for nuclear materials and waste, and $11 million for the Office of the Inspector General.

Industry reaction

The US nuclear industry body the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) claimed that the DoE's FY2013 budget request seeks to re-impose for at least ten years a levy on nuclear energy companies of $200 million annually for the Decontamination and Decommissioning Fund to finance the cleanup of DoE enrichment facilities. The industry has already exceeded its $2.6 billion obligation, while the government has yet to contribute, it said. Alex Flint, NEI's senior vice president for government affairs, said, "The nuclear energy industry will continue to vigorously oppose this outrageous attempt to have our companies make up for the government's failure to fulfill its legal obligation to this long-standing environmental program."

The NEI also noted that the DoE's budget request foes not fund university nuclear energy programs. "As the result of the insufficient funding in areas critical to the industry's future, the country will face heightened challenges in finding enough qualified workers in the decades ahead," Flint warned.

The contents of the presidential budget now pass to the US Congress and into a process involving the drawing up of budget resolutions, which can be amended by majority votes in the Senate and House, before being enforced in appropriations bills. Fiscal 2013 will begin on 1 October 2012.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News