A U.S. House committee has voted to advance a Department of Energy budget that would keep funding for Idaho National Laboratory and nuclear research mostly flat.
The House Appropriations Committee voted on party lines Tuesday afternoon, with the Democrats in favor and the Republicans opposed, to advance a budget proposal that would boost DOE funding from $35.685 billion this year to $37.087 billion in the 2020 fiscal year. This is up from the $31.502 billion requested by President Trump.
Total funding for nuclear energy, the bulk of which is for INL as the country’s leading nuclear energy research lab, would be $1.318 billion next year in this budget proposal, down from $1.326 billion this year but up from the $824 million Trump requested.
Overall funding for reactor research and development would be $325 million, up a bit from this year’s $323 million, compared to the $215 million Trump requested. This includes $100 million for advanced small modular reactor development, the same as this year, compared to Trump’s $10 million request. Light water reactor sustainability and advanced reactor technologies would also be funded at similar levels to this year; Trump wanted to cut both. However, versatile advanced test reactor research and development funding would stay at $65 million; Trump wanted to boost it to $100 million.
Management of DOE facilities in Idaho would be funded at $310 million a year under this budget, down a bit from $319 million now but significantly more than the $209 million Trump proposed. The proposed budget would fund nuclear waste cleanup at $7.2 billion in 2020, the same level as this year and up from the $6.5 billion Trump requested.
The Appropriations Committee met for several hours Tuesday, considering the Defense budget in the morning, then finishing with that and taking up the Energy and Water Development budget in the afternoon. There are still several steps left in the process and funding levels could change. The bills still have to pass the full House, and the House and Senate also need to agree. And, the president needs to sign the appropriations bills.
U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who was the chairman of the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee when the Republicans controlled the House and is now the ranking member, thanked Chairwoman Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, for incorporating the funding requests of both Democrats and Republicans into the final bill. However, he said he wished the bill contained more nuclear energy funding.
“I am hopeful as the bill moves through the legislative process, we can move toward a more significant overall funding level,” he said.
Simpson proposed an unsuccessful amendment to fund continuing the licensing application process for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. Congress voted in 2002 to make the mountain in Nevada a nuclear waste repository, but the project has stalled amid bipartisan opposition from many Nevada politicians and other local stakeholders. Meanwhile, high-level nuclear waste that would be moved to Yucca Mountain or elsewhere for permanent storage is being temporarily stored at sites scattered across the country.
Simpson stressed that his amendment would not fund construction of the repository, and that continuing the process would allow the safety concerns of its opponents to be vetted. Taxpayers are spending $2.2 million a day on temporary on-site waste storage, he said.
“Continuing and completing the licensing process is how we determine if any of the concerns raised are scientifically valid. ... This amendment ensures we have the authoritative scientific decision, not a political decision, on the safety of Yucca Mountain,” he said.
Kaptur said the proposed DOE budget contains $25 million to consolidate some nuclear waste at interim storage sites, which she said is a quicker and more realistic near-term path forward than continuing the Yucca Mountain licensing process. And, she said, Simpson’s amendment would cost about $40 million, money Trump would likely take from nuclear nonproliferation and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, programs Democrats want to protect.
“We can do better than have a tired old argument about Yucca Mountain as proposed in this amendment,” she said.
Simpson replied communities would be less likely to accept interim storage sites if the federal government isn’t working on a long-term solution.
Simpson’s amendment failed 25-27. While most of the Democrats opposed it and most of the Republicans supported it, a few lawmakers broke with their parties — Nevada Republican Mark Amodei crossed party lines to vote “No,” for example.