House appropriators pass bill with more funding for nuclear energy

July 19, 2021, 12:01PMNuclear News

The House Committee on Appropriations last week approved an Energy and Water Development funding bill for fiscal year 2022 that provides an 11 percent increase for the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy.

Reported favorably out of committee on July 16 via a party-line vote of 33 to 24, the House bill sports a total price tag of $53.2 billion, an increase of $1.5 billion from the FY 2021 enacted level. (The committee’s official report on appropriations for the next fiscal year can be found here.)

The panel recommends $45.1 billion for the DOE, a $3.2 billion boost over last year’s amount, but $1.1 billion below the Biden administration’s proposal. The Office of Nuclear Energy is budgeted at $1.68 billion, up $167.4 million from 2021.

Simpson

DeLauro

Pro & con: “By deploying clean energy technologies, investing in cutting edge research, and strengthening our nation’s water infrastructure, this legislation will set us on the course for a clean, affordable, and secure energy future,” declared committee chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) during the markup session.

Expressing disagreement with the majority sentiment was Energy and Water Development Subcommittee ranking member Mike Simpson (R., Idaho), who said that “while there are many items in this bill that I strongly support, unfortunately, they are within an overall framework that House Republicans cannot support.” According to Simpson, the measure “overfunds certain non-defense programs and shortchanges our national security needs” and “embraces the policy priorities that focus on reducing U.S. emissions in a way that almost certainly would result in an increase in global emissions, and therefore not reduce the impact of climate change.”

Highlights (and a lowlight): The House committee’s FY 2022 funding recommendations include the following:

  • $395 million for the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, a $145 million jump from 2021. In its report on the bill, the committee directs the DOE to continue to focus ARDP resources on partners capable of project delivery within the next five to seven years and “encourages the department to consider including the Milestone-Based Demonstration Projects approach as authorized in section 9005 of the Energy Act of 2020 for existing ARDP awards.” The bill also provides $55 million for the Idaho National Laboratory–led National Reactor Innovation Center—$25 million above the 2021 total.
  • $253 million for reactor concepts R&D, a $45 million increase from 2021. This includes $145 million for advanced small modular reactor RD&D; $50 million for light water reactor sustainability, with at least $10 million of that going to support new or previously awarded hydrogen demonstration projects; and $58 million for advanced reactor technologies, including $25 million for megawatt-scale reactor R&D—$9 million of which is earmarked for INL’s MARVEL microreactor project. The legislation also provides up to $5 million for the research and development of an advanced isotope separation process for molten salt reactors (MSRs) “to ensure the ongoing development of the isotope separation process needed to provide required materials for inherently safe Generation IV MSRs, as well as a domestic source of lithium isotopes for nuclear reactors,” according to the report.
  • $110 million for accident tolerant fuels, a small upward bump of $4.2 million from 2021. The bill recommends at least $10 million for further development of silicon carbide ceramic matrix composite fuel cladding for light water reactors.
  • $62.5 million for used nuclear fuel disposition R&D, the same amount as in 2021. This recommendation provides $5 million for advanced reactor used fuel disposition to address used fuel from TRISO-fueled and metal-fueled advanced reactors, with specific focus on near-term implementation challenges, such as used fuel packaging at potential advanced reactor sites.
  • $600 million for ARPA-E, a solid $173 million uptick from 2021. President Biden also proposed $200 million for the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Climate (ARPA-C), but the House committee rejected the request, explaining, “ARPA-C will require legislation beyond the current ARPA-E authorization. The committee notes that ARPA-E has authority ‘to address the energy and environmental missions of the Department,’ according to section 5012 of the America COMPETES Act. This includes climate-related innovations, and further, the committee notes that ARPA-E already funds such activities. The department is directed to conduct the proposed activities through ARPA-E.”
  • $50 million to support availability of high-assay low-enriched uranium and other advanced nuclear fuels.
  • $27.5 million for interim storage of nuclear waste and oversight of the Nuclear Waste Fund, matching the 2021 funding. In the bill’s report, the committee instructs the DOE to move forward with identification of an interim storage facility using a “consent-based approach.”
  • $0 for the Versatile Test Reactor project, the 2021 enacted amount for which was $45 million and the 2022 request $145 million.

Our take: ANS Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer Craig Piercy offered the following statement on the bill: “On behalf of the 10,000 members of the American Nuclear Society, I thank [Energy and Water Development Subcommittee] chairwoman Marcy Kaptur, ranking member Mike Simpson, and the House Appropriations Committee for including increased support for nuclear R&D and education and workforce programs in the fiscal year 2022 Energy and Water appropriations bill.” Piercy said, “While we are disappointed no funding was included for the Versatile Test Reactor, we recognize the overall funding challenges the committee faces. We urge congressional leaders to take a closer look at the VTR as the process moves forward. Domestic fast-spectrum research irradiation capacity is critical to maintaining the U.S. nuclear infrastructure and enabling innovation and global leadership on safety and nonproliferation norms.”

What’s Next? While the House is making progress with several appropriations bills and is expected to vote on a minibus package soon, the Senate remains focused on moving a major infrastructure bill by August recess and has not yet set a schedule for appropriations markups. It is highly likely that a continuing resolution will be needed by the end of September, when current government funding expires.

The Senate is expected to begin work on the annual defense bill—the National Defense Authorization Act—this month, which will authorize funding and policies for the DOE’s national security programs.


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