WASHINGTON—The Nuclear Energy Institute welcomed the introduction in Congress yesterday of legislation that supports university nuclear science and engineering programs with nearly $240 million in federal spending over the next five years. The Department of Energy/University Nuclear Science and Engineering Act (S.242) was introduced by New Mexico Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici, both of whom are senior members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, also is a sponsor of the bill.
In addition to funding research and training programs, the legislation calls on the Energy Department to develop a graduate and undergraduate fellowship program to attract new students, and to assist universities in recruiting and retaining new faculty.
"Senators Bingaman, Domenici and Crapo are taking an important step to retain U.S. leadership in nuclear technologies that benefit all Americans," said NEI President and Chief Executive Officer Joe F. Colvin. "We encourage Congress to rally behind this important legislation to keep our nation’s nuclear infrastructure stocked with the brightest minds and most capable people."
The legislation warns that "universities cannot afford to support their research and training reactors." The number of university reactors operating nationwide has fallen to 28, a 50-percent reduction since 1980, while the number of four-year degree programs has decreased to about 25.
The legislation authorizes total spending of $239.7 million over five years for research and fellowship programs, starting at $30.2 million in fiscal 2002 and rising to $64.1 million in fiscal 2006. The two largest investments, $68 million each, would go to the Nuclear Engineering and Education Research Program and the Reactor Research and Training Award Program. On the recruitment side, $39 million would go toward the Junior Faculty Research Initiation Grant Program, with another $15.7 million authorized for graduate and undergraduate fellowships.
"As bullish as the nuclear energy industry is on its future in a competitive marketplace, we recognize that our long-term success depends in no small part on a new generation of highly trained nuclear engineers entering the field," Colvin said. "Senators Bingaman, Domenici and Crapo rightly recognize that the government too needs talented new scientists and engineers so that the Energy Department, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the university research that these agencies use can continue at the highest levels of excellence."
The McGraw-Hill publication "Inside N.R.C." recently reported that the NRC research on reactor pressure vessel materials has been put at risk by the planned shutdown of the University of Michigan reactor program in late 2002 or 2003.
In addition to Michigan, university reactors operate in Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.
Nuclear energy provides 20 percent of U.S. electricity needs and is the nation’s largest source of emission-free electricity.
The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear energy are available on NEI’s Internet site at http://www.nei.org .