Yucca funded, GNEP 'zeroed'

26 June 2008

The US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee has approved an energy and water bill that would see increased support for nuclear power initiatives and would fully fund the Yucca Mountain repository for the next financial year but would cut funding for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) program to zero.


Appropriations bills are prepared by committees in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in response to an annual Presidential budget request. Once the two versions are reconciled and approved by Congress, they are sent back to the US President for approval or veto (overriding a veto required a two-thirds majority in each house). The whole process is intended to take place before the fiscal year begins on 1 October.


The $33.2 billion bill drawn up by the committee is more than $2 billion up on that requested by the President. It would increase funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, as well as supporting new initiatives to find new energy sources while reducing overall energy consumption. The Department of Energy (DoE) would receive $27.2 billion, $2.7 billion up on 2008 and $1.3 billion over the amount requested by the President. Included in that would be $862 million earmarked for "basic research to address scientific barriers to advancing technologies for energy generation and storage such as fusion energy and advanced batteries." It is not clear whether this will affect US participation in the Iter international fusion reactor being built in France: in December 2007 the US said it would have to pull out of helping to finance the project when Congress slashed the funds available in fiscal 2008.


Other DoE research and development projects, including the Generation IV reactor program and the Next Generation Nuclear Plant, and the Nuclear Power 2010 initiative, would also enjoy a slice of the funding. The bill includes full funding for the Yucca Mountain waste project plus an allocation of $6.2 billion for the cleanup of contamination from weapons manufacturing sites.


Non-proliferation wins, GNEP loses


The House committee rejected a cut to the non-proliferation budget, instead raising it to $1.5 billion, but cut the funding for the US-led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) to zero. GNEP is a US-led initiative which aims to develop a closed nuclear fuel cycle, with the aim of enhancing energy security while promoting non-proliferation. However, the House committee disagrees, saying "the initiative to reprocess spent nuclear fuel... undermines our nation's nuclear non-proliferation policy." Last year, a panel of the US National Academy of Sciences suggested that the commercial-scale reprocessing facilities envisaged under GNEP were not economically justifiable.


Supporting the bill, David Hobson, representing the minority members of the committee, said: "I am pleased that the subcommittee continues its support for nuclear power, with full funding for Yucca Mountain, the requested extension of the authority for nuclear loan guarantees, and a significant increase in research for the next-generation nuclear plant." He also said that although cutting funding to GNEP the committee was "doing the right thing" by maintaining a modest research program on spent fuel recycling under the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative. "We have to hedge our bets on a variety of energy sources, but nuclear power will certainly continue to play a major role in our energy portfolio for the foreseeable future," he added.