Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Examines the Future of the Nuclear Power Industry

The Senate Committee on Appropriations: Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development is considering the current market, regulations, oversight and future of nuclear power.

  • Basic energy research and development to support nuclear power;
  • The work that’s being done to safely extend reactor licenses from 60 to 80 years; and
  • The development of new nuclear technologies, including advanced reactors, small modular reactors, and accident tolerant fuels.

In September the first oversight hearing on the future of nuclear power was held, to discuss the biggest challenges facing nuclear power, and the work the Department of Energy is supporting in nuclear research and development programs to help solve those problems.

In November, a second meeting was held to examine current efforts to drive innovation in next-generation nuclear technologies at our national laboratories, and the regulatory environment that enables these technologies to come to market.

Currently, nuclear plants are closing, in part because they are competing with other forms of energy that are highly subsidized. Additionally, about 40 to 50 companies are working on advanced reactor concepts that have lower construction costs, increased safety and better used fuel management than today’s reactors. Therefore, a strategic nuclear plan would support:

  • building more reactors
  • ending the nuclear waste stalemate
  • technology agnostic marketplace support
  • pushing back on excessive regulation
  • fueling more free market innovation with government sponsored research

In October, the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Task Force delivered a report on The Future of Nuclear Power.

The report examines challenges that the nuclear industry is facing today, as well as the steps that are necessary to deploy new advanced nuclear technologies in the future. The report concluded that there are five factors that are limiting investment in nuclear power in the U.S. 1) Nuclear power does not get credit for being carbon-free; 2) New nuclear technologies are complex, expensive and are heavily regulated 3) We have not solved the nuclear waste stalemate 4) Market conditions 5) Unanticipated events, such as a nuclear accident.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee recommends that the Department of Energy should continue to work with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to move forward with small modular reactors. A Senate Energy and Water Appropriations bill includes $95 million for this work. The Task Force recommends that the United States undertake an advanced nuclear reactor program to support the design, development, demonstration, licensing and construction of a first of-a-kind commercial-scale reactor.

The Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017 provides FY2017 appropriations for:

  • the civil works projects of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and Central Utah Project; the Department of Energy (DOE); and several independent agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The bill increases overall FY2017 Energy and Water Development funding above FY2016 levels. The bill includes increases for both DOE and the Army Corps of Engineers, while funding the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation at the FY2016 level.
  • Within the DOE budget, the bill increases funding for Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration.
  • The bill does not include FY2017 funding for Nuclear Waste Disposal. It authorizes DOE to conduct a pilot program with private sector partners to provide interim storage for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.
  • Also included in the bill is a provision restricting the Corps of Engineers from advancing regulations changing the definition of “fill material” or “discharge of fill material” under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly known as the Clean Water Act).
  • The Senate FY2017 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill totals $37.5 billion, $355 million above the FY2016 enacted level and $261 million above the President’s request.
  • While meeting national priorities, the legislation makes targeted reductions to lower-priority programs. Department of Energy – $30.7 billion, $1.024 billion above the FY2016 enacted level. Nuclear Security – $12.9 billion, a $341 million increase over FY2016, for DOE nuclear security programs, including Weapons Activities, Naval Reactors, and Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation.
  • This includes:
  • $9.3 billion for Weapons Activities, $438 million above the FY2016 enacted level
  • $1.4 billion for Naval Reactors, $45 million above the FY2016 enacted level when accounting for programmatic transfers
  • $1.8 billion for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, $118 million below the FY2016 enacted level Science Research – $5.4 billion for science research, an increase of $50 million above the FY2016 enacted level, to support basic energy research, development of high-performance computing systems, and research into the next generation of clean energy sources–all important areas for lessening U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources and for improving economic competitiveness.
  • Environmental Cleanup – $6.4 billion for DOE environmental management activities, $133 million above the FY2016 enacted level, including $5.4 billion for Defense Environmental Cleanup to continue remediation of sites contaminated by previous nuclear weapons production.
  • The bill also funds cleanup activities at other non-defense related nuclear sites.
  • Solving the Nuclear Waste Stalemate – The bill includes a pilot program for consolidated nuclear waste storage, introduced by Alexander and ranking member U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). It also includes language that allows DOE to store nuclear waste at private facilities that are licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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