Senate Appropriators on Nuclear Energy

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Publication date: 
16 September 2011

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The  Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee included  extensive language in their FY 2012 committee report about nuclear energy.  They wrote of being “extremely concerned that  the United States continues to accumulate spent fuel from nuclear     reactors  without a comprehensive plan to collect the fuel or dispose of it safely, and  as a result faces a $15,400,000,000 liability by 2020,” called for the  development of “consolidated regional storage facilities,” and mandated  research on dry cask storage, advanced fuel cycle options, and disposal in  geological media.  The appropriators  provided no funding for the Next Generation Nuclear Plant program or Light  Water Reactor Small Modular Reactor Licensing Technical Support.  In a separate section, they direct the  Nuclear Regulatory Commission to contract with the National Academy of Sciences  for a study on the lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and discuss  beyond design-basis events and mitigating impacts of earthquakes.

Language  from the committee report 112-75   follows, with page number references to the pdf version of this document. 

Nuclear  Energy

The  FY 2011 appropriation was $732.1 million     The  FY 2012 administration request was $754.0 million     The  FY 2012 House-passed bill provides $733.6 million, an increase of $1.5 million  or 0.2 percent from the current budget.     The  Senate Appropriations Committee bill provides $583.8 million, a decline of $148.3  million or 20.3 percent.

(Page 80)

“The  events at the Fukushima-Daiichi facilities in Japan have resulted in a  reexamination of our Nation’s policies regarding the safety of commercial  reactors and the storage of spent nuclear fuel.   These efforts have been supported by appropriations in this bill, and  the Committee provides funding for continuation and expansion of these  activities.

“While  the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has found that spent nuclear fuel can be stored  safely for at least 60 years in wet or dry cask storage beyond the licensed  life of the reactor, the Committee has significant questions on this matter and  is extremely concerned that the United States continues to accumulate spent  fuel from nuclear reactors without a comprehensive plan to collect the fuel or dispose  of it safely, and as a result faces a $15,400,000,000 liability by 2020. The  Committee approved funding in prior years for the Blue Ribbon Commission on  America’s Nuclear Future [BRC], which was charged with examining our Nation’s  policies for managing the  back end of the nuclear fuel cycle and recommending a new plan. The BRC issued  a draft report in July 2011 with recommendations, which is expected to be  finalized in January 2012. The  Committee directs prior existing funding, contingent on the renewal of its  charter, to the BRC to develop a comprehensive revision to Federal statutes  based on its recommendations, to submit to Congress for its consideration.

“The  Committee directs the Department to develop and prepare to implement a strategy  for the management of spent nuclear fuel and other nuclear waste within 3  months of publication of the final report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on  America’s Nuclear Future.  The strategy  shall reduce long-term Federal liability associated with the Department’s  failure to pick up spent fuel from commercial nuclear reactors, and it should  propose to store waste in a safe and responsible manner. The Committee notes  that a sound Federal strategy will likely require one or more consolidated  storage facilities with adequate capacity to be sited, licensed, and  constructed in multiple regions, independent of the schedule for opening a  repository. The Committee directs that the Department’s strategy include a plan  to develop consolidated regional storage facilities in  cooperation with host communities, as necessary, and propose any amendments to  Federal statute necessary to implement the strategy.

“Although  successfully disposing of spent nuclear fuel permanently is a long-term effort  and will require statutory changes, the Committee supports taking near- and  mid-term steps that can begin  without new legislation and which provide value regardless of the ultimate  policy the United States adopts. The Committee therefore includes funding for  several of these steps in the Nuclear Energy Research and Development account,  including the assessment of dry casks to establish a scientific basis for  licensing; continued work on advanced fuel cycle options; research to assess  disposal in different geological media; and the development of enhanced fuels  and materials that are more resistant to damage in reactors or spent fuel  pools.

“The  Committee has provided more than $500,000,000 in prior years toward the Next Generation  Nuclear Plant [NGNP] program.  Although  the program has experienced some successes, particularly in the advanced  research and development of TRISO [tristructural-isotropic] fuel, the Committee  is frustrated with the lack of progress and failure to resolve the upfront  cost-share issue to allocate the risk between industry and the Federal  Government. Although the Committee has provided sufficient time for these  issues to be resolved, the program has stalled. Recognizing funding  constraints, the Committee cannot support continuing the program in its current  form. The Committee provides no funding to continue the existing NGNP program,  but rather allows the Department to continue high-value, priority research and  development activities for high-temperature reactors, in cooperation with  industry, that were included in the NGNP program.”

The  report also contains extensive language regarding Nuclear Energy Research and  Development:

Use  of Prior Existing Balances. - If the Secretary renews the charter of the Blue  Ribbon Commission, the Department is directed to use $2,500,000 of prior existing  balances appropriated to the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management to  develop a comprehensive revision to Federal statutes based on its  recommendations.  The recommendation  should be provided to Congress not later than March 30, 2012 for consideration.

Nuclear  Energy Enabling Technologies. - The Committee recommends $68,880,000 for  Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies, including $24,300,000 for the Energy  Innovation Hub for Modeling and Simulation, $14,580,000 for the National  Science User Facility at Idaho National Laboratory, and $30,000,000 for  Crosscutting research.  The Committee  does not recommend any funding for Transformative research. The Committee  recommends that the Department focus the Energy Innovation Hub on the aspects  of its mission that improve nuclear powerplant safety.

Light  Water Reactor Small Modular Reactor Licensing Technical Support. - The  Committee provides no funding for Light Water Reactor Small Modular Reactor  Licensing Technical Support.

Reactor  Concepts Research, Development, and Demonstration. - The Committee provides  $31,870,000 for Reactor Concepts Research, Development and Demonstration. Of  this funding,       $21,870,000  is for Advanced Reactor Concepts activities. The Committee does not include  funding for the Next Generation Nuclear Plant Demonstration project. The  Department may, within available funding, continue high-value, priority  research and development activities for high-temperature reactor concepts, in  cooperation with industry, that were conducted as part of the NGNP program.  The remaining funds, $10,000,000, are for  research and development of  the current fleet of operating reactors to determine how long they can safely  operate.

Fuel  Cycle Research and Development. - The Committee recommends $187,917,000 for  Fuel Cycle Research and Development.  Within  available funds, the Committee provides $10,000,000 for the Department to  expand the existing modeling and simulation capabilities at the national  laboratories to assess issues related to the aging and safety of storing spent  nuclear fuel in fuel pools and dry storage casks. The Committee includes  $60,000,000 for Used Nuclear Fuel Disposition, and directs the Department to  focus research and development activities on the following priorities:

  • $10,000,000  for development and licensing of standardized transportation, aging, and  disposition canisters and casks;
  • $3,000,000  for development of models for potential partnerships to manage spent nuclear  fuel and high level waste; and
  • $7,000,000  for characterization of potential geologic repository media.

“The  Committee provides funding for evaluation of standardized transportation, aging  and disposition cask and canister design, cost, and safety characteristics, in  order to enable the Department to determine those that should be used if the  Federal Government begins transporting fuel from reactor sites, as it is  legally obligated to do, and consolidating fuel. The Committee notes that the  Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future has, in its draft report,  recommended the creation of consolidated interim storage facilities, for which  the Federal Government will need casks and canisters to transport and store  spent fuel.

“The  Committee also requests that the Department revisit the recommendations of the  2006 National Academies report titled ‘Going  the Distance: the Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level  Radioactive Waste in the United States,’ as recommended by the Blue Ribbon  Commission on America’s Nuclear Future in its draft report. The Committee  shares the view of the Blue Ribbon Commission that  ‘NAS recommendations that have not yet been  implemented, for whatever reason, should be revisited and addressed as  appropriate.’’ The Department is directed to report to the Committee within 90  days of enactment of this act on its plan to revisit these recommendations.

“The  Committee further recommends $59,000,000 for the Advanced Fuels program. With  the increased funding the Department is directed to give priority to developing  enhanced fuels and cladding for light water reactors to improve safety in the  event of accidents in the reactor or spent fuel pools. While the Committee  acknowledges the value of engineering upgrades and regulatory enhancements to  ensure the safety of the Nation’s current fleet of nuclear reactors following  the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant, it is becoming  increasingly clear that failure of the nuclear fuel upon loss of coolant was  the ultimate cause of the destruction of the Japanese reactors and the  extensive environmental damage. The Committee continues to support the  Department’s advanced fuels activities, in particular the ongoing coated particle  fuel (deep burn) effort, and urges that special technical emphasis and  funding priority be given to activities aimed at the development and near-term  qualification of meltdown-resistant, accident-tolerant nuclear fuels that would  enhance the safety of present  and future generations of Light Water Reactors. Last, the Department is  directed to report to the Committee, within 90 days of enactment of this act,  on its plan for development of meltdown-resistant fuels leading to reactor  testing and utilization by 2020.

International  Nuclear Energy Cooperation.—The Committee recommends $3,000,000 for  International Nuclear Energy Cooperation.”

On  page 95 of the report, under the heading Nuclear Waste Disposal, for which the  House bill provided $25.0 million, contrasting with the Administration’s  request for no funding, the Senate language states: “The Committee recommends  no funding for the nuclear waste disposal program.”

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The  Japanese nuclear disaster is the central focus of the Senate committee report language  on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on page 143:

National  Academy of Sciences Study. - At the recommendation of the Blue Ribbon  Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, the Committee directs the Nuclear  Regulatory Commission to contract with the National Academy of Sciences [NAS]  for a study of the lessons       learned  from the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The study should assess:

  • the  causes of the crisis at Fukushima;
  • the  lessons that can be learned;
  • the  lessons’ implications for conclusions reached in earlier NAS studies on the  safety and security of current storage arrangements for spent nuclear fuel and  high-level waste in the United States, including an assessment of whether the  amount of spent fuel currently stored in reactor pools should be reduced;
  • the  lessons’ implications for commercial nuclear reactor safety and security  regulations; and
  • the  potential to improve design basis threats assessment.

“This  study shall build upon the 2004 NAS study of storage issues and complement the  other efforts to learn from Fukushima that have already been launched by the  NRC and industry. The Committee directs the Commission to proceed with its own  efforts to improve regulations as expeditiously as possible. From the funds made  available to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Committee directs the  Commission to transfer $2,000,000 to the National Academy  of Sciences to undertake this study. The Committee expects the Commission to  execute this transfer within 30 days of enactment of this act. The study should  be conducted in coordination with the Department of Energy and, if possible,  the Japanese Government. The Committee expects the Nuclear Regulatory  Commission, the Department of Energy, and the Department of State to assist the  National Academy of Sciences in obtaining the information it needs to complete this study in a timely  manner.

Beyond  Design-basis Events. - In light of recent earthquakes that exceeded the design  basis of nuclear power plants in both Japan and the United States, the  Committee encourages the Commission to evaluate whether it would be appropriate  for the Commission to oversee, evaluate and test licensee beyond-design-basis  event management guidelines and mitigation strategies in a more comprehensive manner,  especially with regard to seismic and flooding events.

Mitigating  the Impact of Earthquakes. - The Committee is concerned that risks to public  health and safety exist due to a lack of understanding how critical nuclear  energy infrastructure, particularly storage ponds and containers for spent  nuclear fuel and waste, will respond to a catastrophic earthquake or kinetic  impact event. The Committee directs the Nuclear Regulatory Commission [NRC] to  develop protocols for the use of existing domestic seismic testing facilities,  including the National Science Foundation’s National Earthquake Engineering  Simulation [NEES] program, to conduct tests on full-scale specimens of critical  nuclear infrastructure, in order to validate related computer models and inform  subsequent mitigation strategies. The NRC shall collaborate with NEES to submit  a related plan and proposed budget to the Committee by January 23, 2012.”

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