House and Senate Take Different Approaches on Nuclear Energy Initiative

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Publication date: 
12 September 2007

While House and Senate appropriators generally are supportive of nuclear energy, they part company with the Bush Administration over its FY 2008 request for a major civilian nuclear energy program. Appropriators on both sides of the Capitol have significantly reduced the $395 million request for the the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership's (GNEP) Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative

"We have set a vision, with international partners [China, France, Japan and Russia] to make the expansion of nuclear energy a reality" Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dennis Spurgeon told a symposium last week. Describing GNEP as "the cornerstone" of this vision, Spurgeon promoted it as a way "to overcome the barriers that have faced the global nuclear industry for decades": waste disposal, non-proliferation, efficiency, and cost. Under this program, spent nuclear fuel would be recycled using a process called uranium extraction plus (UREX+) (see

The $395 GNEP request is 45 percent of the FY 2008 DOE Office of Nuclear Energy request. The remainder of the request would be used for Early Site Permit demonstration projects, R&D for next-generation nuclear energy system concepts, the Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative, facilities' management, program direction, and safeguards and security.

The House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee acted first on the Administration's request. In committee report 110-185 accompanying H.R. 2641, House appropriators first described "major committee concerns" in a section on DOE. Among them was "the Department has established a pattern of rushing into the latest new initiative with unbridled enthusiasm, neglecting the completion of on-going work, and letting haste make waste. Most major DOE projects have long time scales, longer than those of political change. This means that it is essential to take time up-front to establish the reliability of new technologies that will be used, to complete end-to-end system engineering and include all mission requirements, and to build bipartisan political support for long-term missions that is broad rather than local." House appropriators also criticized DOE's project management in general, stating, "Despite the fact that DOE contract management remains on GAO's [Government Accountability Office] high-risk list, the Department proposes to proceed rapidly with major projects to build [several facilities] . . . and conducting studies leading to construction of Global Nuclear Energy Partnership commercial scale facilities."

Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Peter Visclosky (D-IN), Ranking Member David Hobson (R-OH) and their colleagues dramatically reduced the Administration's $395 million Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative (GNEP) request to a recommended $120 million. (Current funding is $167.5 million.) The committee report explains the cut as follows:

"While the Committee is generally supportive of continued research that could lead to an eventual program of light water nuclear reactor spent fuel recycling, should that become necessary in the future, the aggressive program proposed by the Department is at best premature. The Committee has provided considerable funding in previous years and does so again in fiscal year 2008, to support a renaissance in nuclear energy generation in the United States. This renaissance appears to be coming, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is anticipating multiple license applications for new light water nuclear reactors before the end of 2008. But the renaissance has not taken shape as yet. It will be some years before one can be confident the industry will be renewed. The licensing, financing and construction of new reactors have not happened, and the economic viability of nuclear power will not be known until the first few new reactors are providing energy to the electric grid."

Later the report comments:

"The Committee supports continued research on advanced fuel cycles, including the development of technologies for recycling spent nuclear fuel. However, the Committee does not support the Department's rushed, poorly-defined, expansive, and expensive Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) proposal. There is no compelling urgency to reach a decision point in the summer of 2008, nor is there urgency to begin the development of commercial-scale recycling facilities. Further research is required before the U.S. should commit the magnitude of funding proposed under the GNEP initiative."

The Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee marked up its bill shortly after the House (this bill has not been considered on the Senate floor.) Using language similar to that describing the Reliable Replacement Warhead (see ), Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Ranking Member Pete Domenici (R-NM) and their colleagues wrote:

"The goal of providing a comprehensive solution to the nuclear fuel cycle is understandable in light [of the] global growth of nuclear power. The policy of reinitiating the recycling of spent nuclear fuel in the United States is a significant issue and one that has international implications. While the Committee has members who support the administration's efforts on GNEP there are also members who have questions regarding the cost, pace, science, technology, and nonproliferation implications underpinning the GNEP initiative. The Committee believes the administration must come forward with greater scientific, technical, and policy information that examines more alternatives in the fuel cycle and recycling process. The administration is directed to limit the fiscal year 2008 work scope to research and development and technology demonstrations at existing facilities. No funds may be used beyond conceptual design of new facilities or the sodium cooled fast burner reactor."

The Senate bill, S. 1751, substantially reduces the Administration's $395 million request. As outlined in committee report 110-127, the committee would provide $243 million. The report explains the appropriators' reasoning:

"The Committee notes that the Department seems to have decided on a recycling pathway that consists of the UREX+ separations technology and sodium cooled advanced burner reactors. Many feel the decision to down-select to these technologies was made too soon. The Committee directs the Department to support a broader technology research and development program that better defines the technical requirements, validates the proliferation resistance and demonstrates the commercial feasibility of various recycling technologies." It later states: "DOE is directed to examine a broader array of technologies than UREX+, including pyroprocessing, and other technologies to determine the most cost-effective and proliferation resistant technology."

Senate floor time for the consideration of S. 1751 has not been scheduled. It appears quite likely that this bill will not be enacted by October 1, necessitating the use of a continuing resolution to provide funding in the early weeks, or months, of FY 2008.