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Senate Appropriators on Nuclear Energy

Richard M. Jones
Number 112 - September 16, 2011  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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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.”

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095