FY17 Appropriations Bills: DOE Office of Nuclear Energy and Yucca Mountain

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Publication date: 
12 May 2016
Number: 
58

Although the House and Senate remain supportive of the Office of Nuclear Energy overall, they continue to stake out divergent stances on nuclear waste disposal via appropriations bills for the Department of Energy – with the House still pushing for approval of the Yucca Mountain repository and the Senate again advancing a pilot program to consolidate waste at an interim storage site.

This year’s House and Senate appropriations bills for the Department of Energy (DOE) are similar to those of previous years in that both are supportive of nuclear energy research and development (R&D) but still clash on the subject of nuclear waste disposal. (See FYI #47 and FYI #50 for a summary of the Senate and House bills, respectively.)

The below table displays the House and Senate figures for Yucca Mountain and the main accounts within the Office of Nuclear Energy. A more detailed table which include figures for various subaccounts is available in AIP’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.

FY17 DOE Office of Nuclear Energy & Yucca Mountain Appropriations Summary Table

Funding Line FY16
Enacted
FY17
Request
Change
16-17
House Change
16-17
Senate Change
16-17
Nuclear Energy 986 994 0.8% 1,012 2.6% 989* 0.3%*
Research & Development 533 542 1.8% 549 3.1% 536 0.7%
Fuel Cycle R&D 204 250 22.6% 177 -13.0% 220 7.8%
Reactor Concepts RD&D 142 109 -23.3% 140 -1.2% 130 -8.4%
Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies 112 90 -19.8% 121 8.8% 84 -24.8%
Small Modular Reactor Licensing 63 90 43.4% 97 54.6% 95 52.0%
Yucca Mountain 0 0 0.0% 170 - 0 0.0%

* This figure does not include $68.6 million for the Advanced Test Reactor which the Senate bill would transfer to this account from the Naval Reactors account.

** All figures are in millions of nominal U.S. dollars and are rounded to the nearest million. The percentages are calculated based on the unrounded figures.

The House bill would provide no funds for DOE to advance its plans to establish one or more interim storage facilities for nuclear waste through a consent-based siting process. Instead, the House provides an unrequested $170 million (through a separate account) for DOE to proceed with the licensing process for Yucca Mountain.

In contrast, the Senate bill would provide DOE $61 million of the requested $73 million for interim storage activities and for the third year in a row contains language authorizing a pilot program to construct one or more interim storage facilities in partnership with a private sector company. This pilot program is based on an agreement crafted by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

As for nuclear R&D, at first glance the House appears to be only a bit more generous than the Senate, providing $13 million over the Senate figure. However, the interim storage program that the House bill zeros out funding for is contained within the Fuel Cycle R&D account. Thus the House’s large boosts over the request for Reactor Concepts Research, Development, and Demonstration (RD&D) and Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies are disguised in the top line R&D figure.

House seeks to reopen path to Yucca Mountain

Advocates of Yucca Mountain perhaps sense an opportunity to revive the long-stalled repository given the upcoming retirement of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who has been instrumental in blocking the site from becoming the nation’s primary destination for nuclear waste. The House committee responsible for writing the appropriations bill describes its stance as follows:

 Rather than comply with current law, the Administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request once again attempts to fund unauthorized alternatives for used nuclear fuel disposition instead of moving forward with Yucca Mountain. The Department requests funding to implement selected recommendations of the Department’s Strategy for the Management and Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste, which was informed by the Administration’s Blue Ribbon Commission that by its very charter did not examine the suitability of Yucca Mountain as a permanent repository. This strategy is estimated to cost $5,700,000,000 over the next ten years and proposes to reform the current funding arrangement for the Department’s nuclear waste fund management program. The recommendation rejects these non-Yucca proposals and makes clear that any activities funded from the Nuclear Waste Fund must be in support of Yucca Mountain.

To address the Administration’s failure to execute current law, the recommendation provides $150,000,000 within Nuclear Waste Disposal to support the Yucca Mountain High-Level Waste Geologic Repository and $20,000,000 within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to support the continued adjudication of the Yucca Mountain license application. The Committee notes that geological repositories in addition to Yucca Mountain will be needed. If the Congress provides the authority for such repositories, as well as for a consent-based siting process, the Committee will consider support for such activities at that time. In the meantime, the bill contains a prohibition on using funds to close the Yucca Mountain license application or to take actions that would irrevocably remove Yucca Mountain as an option for a repository.

The committee has included similar language in previous reports accompanying DOE appropriations bills.

In addition to Reid’s retirement, there has been another important development which will likely lead advocates of the repository to intensify their efforts. Last week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission released a long-awaited supplement to its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Yucca Mountain. In the document, commission staff conclude that the potential impacts on the region’s groundwater over a million year period would be “small.”

Shortly after the supplement release, Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), one of the House's strongest supporters of Yucca Mountain, tweeted, “With the final EIS supplement completed, there is no scientific basis to further delay work on the Yucca Mountain repository.”

Comparison of the House and Senate committee reports

Below are a set of expandable tabs which contain excerpts from the explanatory reports that accompany the House and Senate bills.

Nuclear Waste Storage

Integrated Waste Management

Senate: "The Committee continues to strongly support the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future and believes that near-term action is needed to address this important national issue, and recommends $61,040,000 for Integrated Waste Management System activities. Funding should be used to advance plans to consolidate spent nuclear fuel from around the United States to an interim central storage facility(s), with priority given to shutdown reactors, and to accelerate the development of a transportation capability to move the commercial spent fuel from its current storage locations."

House: "Yucca remains the law of the land yet the Department has requested no funding for its development. Instead, the Department has again proposed large increases for new activities that ignore the significant investments made to ensure that the plans for Yucca enable safe and reliable storage for high-level waste and spent nuclear fuel. The Committee rejects this approach and provides no funds for integrated waste management system activities. Furthermore, within the amounts for Used Nuclear Fuel Disposition, the recommendation does not include defense funds."

Yucca Mountain Licensing

House: "To address the Administration’s failure to execute current law, the recommendation provides $150,000,000 within Nuclear Waste Disposal to support the Yucca Mountain High-Level Waste Geologic Repository and $20,000,000 within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to support the continued adjudication of the Yucca Mountain license application. The Committee notes that geological repositories in addition to Yucca Mountain will be needed. If the Congress provides the authority for such repositories, as well as for a consent-based siting process, the Committee will consider support for such activities at that time. In the meantime, the bill contains a prohibition on using funds to close the Yucca Mountain license."

...

"The Committee recommendation includes $150,000,000 for Nuclear Waste Disposal to continue the Department of Energy’s statutorily required activities for the Yucca Mountain license application. Within available funds, the Department is directed to reestablish its capability to respond to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission during the adjudicatory process, and to otherwise fully support the Yucca Mountain licensing process. The recommendation includes support for affected units of local government who have formally consented to host Yucca Mountain. The Committee reiterates that the Administration’s repeated statements that Yucca Mountain is not a 'workable option' ignores both the consent of the host community and the expressed intent of Congress."

Note: there is additional language on Yucca Mountain in multiple sections of the committee report.

Consent-Based Siting of Interim Storage Facilities

Senate: "The Committee supports the Department’s efforts develop a process for consent-based siting by engaging State, local, and tribal government entities on the possible conditions under which an interim storage facility could be sited within their jurisdictions. Further, the Committee supports ongoing coordination between the Department and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to clarify the regulatory framework under which transportation and centralized interim storage of spent fuel could occur. However, The Committee directs the Department to take a more active role in future consent- based siting processes for spent nuclear fuel or any other high level waste than it has demonstrated in the deep borehole demonstration project in North Dakota. The Department cannot avoid its responsibilities of working with State and local communities by hiring a contractor to oversee and execute the work. The Secretary is encouraged to ensure lessons learned from the demonstration project in North Dakota are incorporated into its plan to develop a process for future consent-based siting."

House: "The Committee notes that geological repositories in addition to Yucca Mountain will be needed. If the Congress provides the authority for such repositories, as well as for a consent-based siting process, the Committee will consider support for such activities at that time. In the meantime, the bill contains a prohibition on using funds to close the Yucca Mountain license."

Nuclear Energy

Reactor Concepts RD&D

Senate: "The Committee recommends $129,760,000 for Reactor Concepts Research, Development, and Demonstration. The Committee directs the Nuclear Energy Program to focus funding for Reactor Concepts Research, Development and Demonstration, which includes funding for Advanced SMRs and Advanced Reactor Concepts, on technologies that show clear potential to be safer, less waste producing, more cost competitive, and more proliferation-resistant than existing nuclear power technologies. Within available amounts, the Committee recommends up to $18,000,000 for the second year of the advanced reactor concepts program and $3,000,000 for testing and development of dynamic convection technology. The dynamic convection technology work should include a business case analysis that addresses cost, schedule, licensing, and other risks of implementation in a commercial nuclear plant."

House: "The Committee recommends $140,000,000 for Reactor Concepts Research, Development, and Demonstration, $1,718,000 below fiscal year 2016 and $31,240,000 above the budget request. Within available funds, the recommendation provides $40,000,000 for Light Water Reactor Sustainability to continue research and development work on the technical basis for subsequent license renewal; and $100,000,000 for Advanced Reactor Technologies to consist of the following activities: $33,000,000 is for research of the fuel and graphite qualification program for the High Temperature Gas Reactor; $18,000,000 is follow-on funding for the continued development of two performance-based advanced reactor concepts; and not less than $5,000,000 is to support industry and national laboratories collaborations to develop an advanced reactor regulatory framework. The Department is encouraged to work with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in support of these activities."

Small Modular Reactor Licensing

Senate: "The Committee recommends $95,000,000 for Small Modular Reactor Licensing Technical Support, $5,400,000 above the request. Within this amount, $23,000,000 shall be for the first award for design certification application development, siting preparation, and combined operating license application development. Further, $72,000,000 shall be for the second awardee for design certification application development, siting preparation, and combined operating license application development. Small modular reactors have the potential to provide reliable electricity generation to replace retiring fossil plants and meet domestic clean power needs.

The Committee directs the Department to submit a report evaluating and prioritizing government and private sector actions needed for development and deployment of small modular reactors. The report should evaluate completion of design and licensing of small modular reactors, and licensing of deployment sites for small modular reactors. The report should include advanced manufacturing and supply chain development opportunities. The report should also evaluate public and private sector facilities that could be powered by small modular reactors."

House: "The Committee recommends $96,600,000 for Small Modular Reactor Licensing Technical Support, $34,100,000 above fiscal year 2016 and $7,000,000 above the budget request. Within funds above the budget request the Committee encourages the Department to continue to support design certification, site permitting, first of a kind engineering, and related licensing activities necessary to support the development and initial deployment of small modular reactor technologies."

Light Water Reactor Sustainability R&D

Senate: "Light Water Reactor Sustainability.—Within available funds, the Committee recommends $35,260,000. The most cost effective way for the United States to maintain low-cost, carbon-free electricity is to safely extend the lives of our Nation’s existing nuclear reactors from 60 to 80 years. Therefore, the Committee recommends additional funding for this activity as a priority. The Committee directs the Secretary to use funding in this activity to continue research and development work on the technical basis for subsequent license renewal. The Secretary should focus funding in this program on materials aging and degradation, advanced instrumentation and control technologies, and component aging modeling and simulation. The Secretary shall also coordinate with industry to determine other areas of high-priority research and development in this area."

Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies

Senate: "The Committee recommends $83,925,000 for Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies. The Committee recommends $24,300,000 for the Energy Innovation Hub for Modeling and Simulation."

House: "The Committee recommends $121,400,000 for Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies, $9,800,000 above fiscal year 2016 and $31,890,000 above the budget request, of which not less than $9,800,000 shall be to support the implementation of the GAIN initiative. Within available funds, the recommendation provides $28,000,000 for Crosscutting Technology Development, of which funding above the request is provided for GAIN management, nuclear knowledge and validation work, nuclear cyber activities, and integrated energy systems and not less than $11,000,000 is provided for advanced instrumentation; $28,200,000 for Nuclear Energy Advanced Modeling and Simulation, of which funding above the request is to increase TREAT validation efforts; $24,300,000 for the third year of the second five-year term of the Energy Innovation Hub for Modeling and Simulation; and $31,100,000 for the Nuclear Science User Facilities.

"Within available funds for the Nuclear Science User Facilities, the Department shall continue the focus on irradiation testing and examinations of irradiated materials and is also encouraged to assess research in thermal hydraulics, multi-physics code validation, and advancements in instrumentation and data control systems."

Fuel Cycle R&D

Senate: "The Committee recommends $219,730,000 for Fuel Cycle Research and Development. No Defense function funds are provided. ... Research and development activities on behavior of spent fuel in long-term storage, under transportation conditions, and in various geologic media will continue to be important to developing a new solution to the waste problem. Within the amounts recommended for used nuclear fuel disposition, $14,250,000 shall be for continuance of these activities. Priority should be placed on the ongoing study of the performance of high-burnup fuel in dry storage and on the potential for direct disposal of existing spent fuel dry storage canister technologies.

"The Committee recommends $69,390,000 for the Advanced Fuels program. The Department is directed to continue implementation of the accident tolerant fuels development program, the goal of which remains development of accident tolerant nuclear fuels leading to commercial reactor fuel assembly testing by 2022. The Secretary is directed to share with the Committee the outcome of the consultation required in fiscal year 2016 with industry, universities and other interested organizations on a commercialization roadmap for these technologies, including new ceramic cladding material.

"While the benefit of incremental improvements to existing commercially available fuels is acknowledged, there is concern that the Department’s ongoing activities on accident tolerant fuels will not ultimately lead to meaningful reductions in the consequences of unexpected severe accidents in nuclear power plants. Therefore, not less than $19,300,000 is provided to initiate Phase 2 of the industry-led, appropriately cost-shared basic research program on Accident Tolerant Fuels, and $3,000,000 is provided for continuation of the previously competitively awarded Small Business projects to develop ceramic cladding for Accident Tolerant Fuels."

House: "The Committee recommends $177,228,000 for Fuel Cycle Research and Development, $26,572,000 below fiscal year 2016 and $72,710,000 below the budget request. Within available funds, the recommendation provides $62,100,000 for the Advanced Fuels Program, of which $15,000,000 is for additional support of feasibility studies for accident tolerant light water reactor fuels and $20,000,000 is for additional support of capability development of transient testing, including test design, modeling, and simulation; $33,000,000 for Material Recovery and Waste Form Development to maintain U.S. competency in the area of fuel cycle technologies; and $13,000,000 for Systems Analysis and Integration, of which funding above the request is to assess advanced nuclear energy deployment scenarios.

...

"The recommendation provides $61,128,000 for Used Nuclear Fuel Disposition (UNFD), $23,872,000 below fiscal year 2016 and $89,510,000 below the budget request. The recommendation provides $61,128,000 to continue generic UNFD research and development activities, $872,000 below fiscal year 2016 and $13,210,000 below the budget request. Within available funds, the recommendation provides $6,000,000 to support activities to design and certify a rail car or cars for use with licensed and anticipated transportation casks; and $12,000,000 to support preparation activities for testing of high burnup fuel and post-irradiation examination of spent fuel rods for the high burnup demonstration project."

Plutonium-238 Production

House: "The Department shall continue to work with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to ensure an adequate supply of plutonium-238 is available for future NASA space exploration missions."

Idaho National Lab / Advanced Test Reactor

Senate: "The Committee recommends $295,185,000 for Idaho Facilities Management, which includes $141,000,000 for operations and maintenance of the Advanced Test Reactor. The Advanced Test Reactor is a vital asset that provides research capability across the Department. In order to provide better budget clarity and consistency appropriate for an operating reactor facility, a new control point for the Advanced Test Reactors Operations and Maintenance is established that consolidates all funding for the Advanced Test Reactor in the Nuclear Energy account.

...

"The Advanced Test Reactor [ATR] is an important research platform for nuclear testing and development, and is operated as a User Facility with broad applications across multiple programs. Historically, the operations and maintenance of the ATR has been funded in both the Naval Reactors and the Nuclear Energy accounts. External users other than Naval Reactors only pay for the incremental costs of their specific tests. The Committee supports adequate funding for the operations and maintenance of the ATR, but is consolidating the funding within the Nuclear Energy budget. As such, no funding is provided within the Naval Reactors account for ATR operations and maintenance. Naval Reactors should continue to fund NR-specific needs at ATR just like any other external user."

House: "The Committee recommends $240,085,000 for INL Operations and Infrastructure, $19,503,000 above fiscal year 2016 and $19,500,000 above the budget request. Within available funds, the recommendation includes the requested level of defense funding; $10,000,000 for design and construction of the Advanced Test Reactor technical support building to support reactor core internal change-out, reliability improvement, and provide mock-up space for the nuclear demonstration platform; $5,000,000 to implement MFC Five Year Plan life cycle management activities for the resolution of age related issues to improve facility reliability and utilization; and $5,000,000 for engineering and technical activities required to advance fuel and materials post irradiation examination capabilities."

Integrated University Program

Senate: "The Committee recommends $5,000,000 for the Integrated University Program, $5,000,000 above the budget request. The Committee notes the administration repeatedly attempts to defund this program, despite continued success in developing highly qualified nuclear specialists to meet national needs."

House: "The Committee recommends $5,000,000 to continue the Integrated University Program, which is critical to ensuring the nation’s nuclear science and engineering workforce in future years."