President Trump’s budget request for fiscal year 2021, released on February 10, allots $35.4 billion to the Department of Energy. Nearly $1.2 billion of that goes to the Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE-NE).
The final FY 2020 appropriations were signed into law on December 20, 2019, nine months after that budget was first proposed, and it could be several months before final appropriations for FY 2021 are enacted. Those enacted appropriations could bear little resemblance to the proposed budget. It bears noting that while the FY 2020 budget request for DOE-NE was $824 million, more than $1.493 billion—an increase of just over 87 percent—was ultimately enacted.
Highlights of the FY 2021 DOE-NE budget include the following:
The Versatile Test Reactor, designed to provide the United States with a fast neutron testing capability for accelerated testing of advanced nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation, and sensors, has been formally established as a line-item construction project with a budget of $295 million.
The budget earmarks $20 million for research and development in support of the newly established Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program in FY 2021 to support the execution of the FY 2020 demonstration awards (see DOE story on page 14). That amount is down 91.3 percent from the FY 2020 enacted funding of $230 million.
Reactor Concepts Research, Development, and Demonstration would get $111.5 million, a 58.2 percent decrease from the $267 million enacted for FY 2020. This program funds early-stage cost-shared research under the Advanced Small Modular Reactor R&D program, the Light Water Reactor Sustainability program, and early-stage research into other advanced reactor technologies, such as fast reactors and high-temperature reactors.
The budget request for Fuel Cycle R&D is down 38.7 percent, at $187 million, with an enhanced emphasis on used nuclear fuel disposition R&D, support for one or more accident tolerant fuel concepts for LWRs, technologies for high-assay low-enriched uranium production, and R&D to support mining and conversion capabilities in the United States, including research on advanced uranium production water treatment technologies.
Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies could receive $116 million, an increase of 2.2 percent over FY 2020, to support early-stage R&D through programs such as the Nuclear Science User Facilities and the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear. The request also supports the development of additive manufacturing techniques through the Transformational Challenge Reactor subprogram at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The provision of reactor fuel to operating university research reactors, and the removal of used fuel, is supported by $11.5 million for Radiological Facilities Management. While no funds were enacted for FY 2020, the program got $29 million in FY 2019.
The Idaho Facilities Management program would get $226 million for investments at the Advanced Test Reactor and Advanced Test Reactor Critical Facility, and to continue operations at the Transient Reactor Test Facility. While no funds were enacted for FY 2020, 2019 funds were $318 million.
No funds were set aside in the budget request for the Integrated University Program or for Supercritical Transformation Electric Power (STEP) R&D, both of which received $5 million in 2020.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s congressional budget justification was also released on February 10. The FY 2021 budget request for the NRC is $863.4 million, including 2,868 full-time employee (FTE) equivalents. This represents an increase of $7.8 million, and a decrease of 102 FTE, from the FY 2020 enacted budget. When compared to the total budget authority for FY 2020, however, which included the use of $40 million in authorized prior-year carryover, the budget request represents a decrease of $32.2 million, or approximately 3.6 percent. Since FY 2014, the NRC budget has decreased by 17 percent (excluding resources for Yucca Mountain and the Integrated University Program), and FTE has been reduced by 25 percent.
The NRC will recover $740.4 million of its FY 2021 budget request from fees assessed to NRC licensees, resulting in a net budget authority of $123.0 million, a decrease of $4.5 million when compared with the FY 2020 enacted budget.
Some highlights of the NRC budget proposal include the following:
The Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA) becomes effective in FY 2021, establishing a revised framework for fee recovery and excluding certain activities from fee recovery.
$17.7 million is proposed for the Nuclear Reactor Safety Program for the continued development of a regulatory infrastructure for advanced nuclear reactor technologies.
The operating power reactors annual fee estimate is $4.8 million, and it assumes 93 operating power reactors in FY 2021.
No funding for licensing activities related to the proposed deep geological repository at Yucca Mountain or for the Integrated University Program has been proposed.
The Office of the Inspector General would receive $13.5 million for auditing and investigation activities for NRC programs ($12.3 million) and for the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board ($1.2 million).
A total of $62.5 million is budgeted to support requested activities, which are defined by NEIMA to include the processing of applications for design certifications or approvals, licenses, permits, license amendments, license renewals, certificates of compliance, and power uprates.