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US appropriations signed into law, boosting nuclear spending

(WNN) | Updated: 2016-02-03
2016-02-03 (WNN)

US nuclear energy programs, including small modular reactors and the development of new advanced reactors, are to receive $960 million under an appropriations act signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Obama signed the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Act on 18 December, after it had been approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The legislation includes funding for virtually the entire federal government to the end of the fiscal year on 30 September 2016, about $1.15 trillion in total.

The bill provides $141 million for reactor concepts research and development (R&D), plus $230 million for fuel cycle R&D. The US program to license small reactors is supported through $62.5 million of funding.

Alex Flint, senior vice president for government affairs at US nuclear industry body the Nuclear Energy Institute, said that the increased funding for new reactors was a "smart investment in a low-carbon and a secure energy future" for the nation. "Encouragingly, the Omnibus Appropriations Act for 2016 includes strong support for nuclear energy to remain a vital component of a diversified electricity portfolio that will strengthen our energy security and increase economic growth while reining in regulatory overreach," he said.

The final funding deal, which has been the subject of debate and negotiation in both of the USA's legislative houses, highlights several priorities for nuclear energy, including the budget for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the second licence renewal process for nuclear reactors, and decommissioning of uranium enrichment facilities.

The budget for the NRC is reduced to better reflect the agency's workload as it downsizes and reorganizes itself under its Project Aim initiative. A total of $990 million is appropriated for the NRC. The bill estimates that NRC revenues from licensing fees, inspection services, and other "services and collections" will total about $873 million in fiscal 2016.

The appropriations package also sets a deadline of March 2016 for the NRC to submit a plan and timeline for completing the actions needed to facilitate the review of the first application to renew a US reactor's operating licence for a second time, taking reactors to a potential 80-year operating life. The NRC is already preparing for the first such application, which it anticipates receiving in 2019.

The package rejects a proposal to reimpose a tax on the nuclear industry to pay for the decommissioning and decontamination of uranium enrichment facilities operated by the US Department of Energy during the Cold War, which Flint said would have placed an unjustified $200 million per year burden on ratepayers.

"Besides funding cleanup activities at the sites as part of the cost of enriched uranium purchased from the government for reactor fuel, the industry paid an additional $2.6 billion in taxes for this effort from 1993 to 2008," he said.