US budget request supports Yucca Mountain

12 March 2019

The US Administration's budget request for fiscal 2020, which begins on 1 October, seeks to restart the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing procedure for the Yucca Mountain geologic repository, and also provides for the regulator to prepare for licensing advanced reactors.

(Image: DOE/Quentin Kruger)

The budget request was submitted to Congress yesterday. The US Department of Energy (DOE) said its total USD31.7 billion budget - which is USD1.1 billion up from its fiscal 2019 request but 11% lower than the 2019 enacted level - promoted the country's "all of the above" energy policy and fulfilled President Donald Trump's "long-term goal of American energy dominance".

It includes USD824 million for the Office of Nuclear Energy - an increase of USD67 million from its fiscal 2019 request - plus USD116 million for the Yucca Mountain and Interim Storage Program. It also includes USD100 million towards construction of the Versatile Test Reactor facility to enable development and testing of advanced fuels and materials for the next generation of commercial nuclear reactors.

The NRC's proposed budget request of USD921 million is USD10 million higher than in fiscal 2019, and includes funding of USD449.5 million for nuclear reactor safety and USD165.7 million for nuclear materials and waste safety, of which USD38 million is to support licensing activities for Yucca Mountain. It also includes USD15 million for the continued development of a regulatory infrastructure for advanced reactor technologies, the NRC said. About 90% of its budget is recovered from licensee fees, so the resulting net appropriation request is USD161 million.

Yucca Mountain, in Nevada, has since 1987 been named in the US Nuclear Waste Policy Act as the sole initial repository for disposal of the country's used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive wastes. The DOE submitted a construction licence application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2008, but the US Administration decided to abort the project following 2009's presidential election. In August 2013 the US federal appeals court ordered the NRC to resume its review of the DOE's application.

The portion of the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) budget request for defence nuclear non-proliferation is, at USD1.99 billion, 3.3% above the enacted level for fiscal 2019. The budget also increases funding to repurpose the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility for the production of nuclear weapons plutonium pits. The Savannah, Georgia, facility had been intended to dispose of 34 tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium by turning it into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors, but US Energy Secretary Rick Perry in May 2018 notified Congress that construction of the facility was formally to end with the DOE choosing instead to pursue a "dilute and dispose" option for the plutonium. The NRC in February granted CB&I Areva MOX Services' request to terminate the construction authorisation for the partially built plant, which is owned by the NNSA.

The US budgetary process will now see the two chambers of the US Congress - the House and Senate - analyse the presidential request and draft a budget resolution setting overall spending levels. Congress then votes on a final version, and House and Senate subcommittees draft appropriations bills setting the funding for government agencies. Appropriations bills - or an omnibus bill including multiple funding areas - must be signed into law by the President before the start of the fiscal year to avoid a government shutdown.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News