House DOE Appropriations Bill Boosts Fusion and High Energy Physics

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Publication date: 
27 April 2016
Number: 
50

The House Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal year 2017 spending bill which would boost fusion and high energy physics research within a nearly flat overall budget for the Office of Science.

On April 19, the House Appropriations Committee approved by voice vote the fiscal year 2017 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill which funds the Department of Energy (DOE). Overall, the House bill would provide a slight funding increase for the Office of Science, reverse proposed cuts to fossil energy programs, cut renewable energy programs, and provide robust increases for the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and the Office of Nuclear Energy.

A scene from the markup of the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill. (Photo credit - House Appropriations Committee)

The below table summarizes the topline DOE funding levels from the House and Senate bills. Additional summary tables that compare the proposed funding levels for various Office of Science and NNSA sub-accounts are provided in AIP’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.

FY17 DOE Appropriations Summary Table

Funding Line FY16
Enacted
FY17
Request*
Change
16-17
House Change
16-17
Senate Change
16-17
DOE 29,717 30,240 1.8% 29,963 0.8% 30,741 3.4%
NNSA 12,527 12,876 2.8% 12,854 2.6% 12,867 2.7%
Office of Science 5,350 5,572 4.1% 5,400 0.9% 5,400 0.9%
Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy 2,073 2,898 39.8% 1,825 -12.0% 2,073 0.0%
Nuclear Energy (1) 986 994 0.8% 1,012 2.6% 1,058 7.3%
Fossil Energy 869 639 -26.5% 924 6.3% 854 -1.8%
ARPA-E 291 350 20.3% 306 5.1% 293 0.6%

* Excludes $1.585 billion in proposed mandatory spending, of which $1.335 billion is for the 21st Century Clean Transportation Plan, $150 million is for ARPA-E, and $100 million is for the Office of Science.

** All figures are in millions of nominal U.S. dollars and the percentages are calculated based on the unrounded figures.

1. The Senate figure includes $68 million in funding for the Advanced Test Reactor which formerly was counted in the Naval Reactors account within NNSA.

Within the amount allocated to the Office of Science, the House bill would boost fusion research by 2.7 percent—providing the requested $125 million for ITER—and boost high energy physics research by 3.5 percent. The other Office of Science programs would not fare as well, ranging from a 0.6 percent increase to basic energy sciences research to a 2.3 percent cut to biological and environmental research.

Within the amount provided to NNSA, the House bill would fully fund all warhead life extension programs, provide the requested amounts for defense nuclear nonproliferation activities, and rebuff the proposed termination of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility by providing an additional $70 million for continued construction.

There was little mention of the Office of Science during the committee markup other than Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) applauding how the bill fully funds the Advanced Light Source program and directs DOE to submit a report to Congress on its outreach and recruitment efforts at minority serving institutions.

Much of the discussion centered on the cuts to renewable energy as well as various controversial policy provisions included in the bill that are unrelated to DOE. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), the Republican lead for the bill, justified the committee’s dismissal of the president’s large proposed increases for renewable energy as follows:

This bill rejects the budget request proposal to reduce investment in the energy sources that we rely on today. Within energy programs, the recommendation rebalances the portfolio to provide a true ‘all of the above’ energy strategy.

The top Democrat on the appropriations committee, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), sharply criticized this rebalancing, saying

The low level of funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy reflects the Republican majority’s continued efforts to bury their heads in the sand and dismiss the science and consequences of climate change.

According to House leadership, the bill will likely reach the House floor sometime after May 15.

Highlights from the House committee report

The lengthy committee report accompanying the bill provides extensive commentary and direction for various DOE programs. Below are some highlights from the report.

Department-wide

  • Workplace diversity: Directs DOE to submit a plan for national laboratory workforce recruitment and retention which includes details on the department’s outreach and recruitment efforts at minority serving institutions.
  • “Proliferation” of centers: Expresses concern that DOE’s growing portfolio of multi-year research centers may decrease the department’s ability to fund research and development (R&D) outside the scope of existing centers.
  • Technology transfer: Provides $7 million for the new Office of Technology Transitions, $1.4 million below both the budget request and Senate figure.

Office of Science

  • Public access: Expresses concern that public access to publications resulting from federally funded research is limited and directs DOE to adopt a public access policy.
  • Advanced Scientific Computing Research: Fully funds the three Leadership Computing Facilities, provides $20 million for memory and storage architecture research, and encourages DOE to help develop cryptographic systems that are secure from both quantum and classical computers.
  • Basic Energy Sciences: Expresses concern about the balance between research, facility operations, and facility construction, and provides $45 million below the requested amount for Energy Frontier Research Centers, $15 million above the requested amount for the Advanced Photon Source upgrade, and full funding for LCLS-II construction.
  • Biological and Environmental Research: Encourages DOE to prioritize optimizing user facility operation and supports climate model studies that include evaluation of atmospheric data collected from satellites.
  • Fusion Energy Sciences: Provides the requested funding for ITER and directs DOE to submit a follow up to its May 2 ITER report before the end of the year as well as a separate report explaining the Fusion Energy Sciences program’s collaboration with universities.
  • High Energy Physics: Strongly supports the recommendations of the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel report, urges DOE to maintain balance between small, medium, and large projects, and provides $5 million above the request for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility.
  • Nuclear Physics: Encourages DOE to fund optimal operations of the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility and the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider.
  • BRAIN Initiative: Supports DOE’s involvement in the BRAIN Initiative but does not provide the $9 million requested, indicating a preference for research proposals related to the initiative going through DOE’s competitive process for access to supercomputing time.

NNSA

  • Warhead Life Extension Programs: Fully funds all life extension programs and expresses concern about the “aggressive” schedule for the B61 and W88 warheads.
  • Subcritical experiments: Provides no funds for construction of the advanced radiographic facility and directs NNSA to commission the JASON Defense Advisory Panel to assess whether this new facility is needed to enhance the capabilities of the Stockpile Stewardship Program.
  • Uranium enrichment: Directs NNSA to submit a report outlining milestones of the domestic uranium enrichment program which includes a roadmap for centrifuge technology R&D.
  • Inertial confinement fusion: Acknowledges the need for “complementary approaches” to fusion research to ensure the long-term viability of the Stockpile Stewardship Program.
  • Plutonium infrastructure recapitalization: Does not support the proposed change in scope for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project.
  • Russia: Prevents NNSA from working with Russia on new nonproliferation projects.
  • Plutonium disposition: Directs NNSA to commission the National Academy of Sciences to assess DOE’s plan to dilute and dispose of plutonium in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant instead of converting it to mixed oxide fuel.
  • Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility: Provides $70 million above the budget request for construction and prevents DOE from placing the project in cold standby.
  • HEU minimization transfer: Shifts responsibility for research reactor fuel development and molybdenum-99 production to the Nonproliferation Research and Development program.
  • Research reactors: Directs NNSA to submit a report detailing its plans to develop lower-enriched fuels for high performance research reactors.
  • Mo-99: Provides $14 million above the budget request for domestic production of molybdenum-99, criticizing NNSA for not meeting the timelines of the American Medical Isotopes Production Act.

Nuclear Energy / Waste

  • Yucca Mountain: Provides an unrequested $170 million to revive efforts to dispose of nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain, devoting a full page (#79) to criticizing the administration’s stance on management of spent nuclear fuel and defense waste.
  • Nuclear energy R&D: Reverses proposed cuts to the Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies and Reactor Concepts Research, Development, and Demonstration accounts.
  • Small modular reactors: Provides $7 million above the budget request for small modular reactor licensing technical support.
  • Fuel cycle R&D: Deeply cuts funding for used nuclear fuel disposition and provides no funds for integrated waste management system activities, rebuking DOE for not supporting Yucca Mountain.
  • Pu-238: Directs DOE to continue work with NASA on ensuring adequate production of plutonium-238 for space exploration missions.