WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Department of Energy today released a fiscal 2013 budget request that seeks to re-impose on the nuclear energy industry a multi-billion-dollar tax for the cleanup of DOE uranium enrichment facilities. The administration is seeking this “special assessment” under a program in which the industry already met its financial obligations while the federal government failed to pay its required share of the cleanup funds.
The Department of Energy’s fiscal 2013 budget request of $27.2 billion seeks to re-impose for at least 10 years a levy on nuclear energy companies of $200 million annually (adjusted for inflation) for the Decontamination and Decommissioning (D&D) Fund to finance the cleanup of DOE enrichment facilities in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. This would mark the third period of time that the industry has been taxed for this effort, even though it met its $2.6 billion obligation under a 1992 law, and the fund has a balance of $4.6 billion. Conversely, the federal government has yet to meet its initial funding requirements for this program.
“The nuclear energy industry will continue to vigorously oppose this outrageous attempt to have our companies make up the government’s failure to fulfill its legal obligation to this long-standing environmental program,” said Alex Flint, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s senior vice president for governmental affairs. “To its credit, Congress has disagreed with the administration’s method to reduce the federal budget deficit by re-imposing this tax on the industry.
The D&D fund was established for the environmental cleanup of facilities that the government built decades ago in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee to enrich uranium for post-World War II defense programs. Commercial nuclear power plants subsequently entered into agreements with the government to buy enrichment services for uranium fuel used to generate electricity. The Paducah, Ky., plant still operates.
NEI also is disappointed that, in a year in which the DOE budget is proposed to increase 16 percent, the request provides 10 percent less for nuclear energy programs ($770.4 million) than the budget for the current fiscal year, Flint said.
The budget request does not fund university nuclear energy programs. It also reduces funding for technology innovation, reducing funding for reactor concepts research and development by $41.2 million (to $73.6 million) and nuclear energy enabling technologies by $9.4 million (to $65.3 million). At a time when the government is encouraging science, mathematics and engineering disciplines, the cuts in the university programs will result in the loss of approximately $14 million in scholarships and fellowships for nuclear engineering, science and technology students beginning this August.
“As the result of the insufficient funding in areas critical to the industry’s future, the country will face heightened challenges in finding enough qualified workers in the decades ahead,” Flint warned. “These budget cuts sacrifice long-term gains for dubious short-term advantages and belie the president’s clarion call for emphasis on technology advancements and educational emphasis on the sciences, engineering and mathematics.”
One relative bright spot in the budget, Flint said, is the request for $65 million to help develop advanced, small reactor designs—300 megawatts or less of electric generating capacity—under a cost-shared, public-private partnership. This is a program modeled after the Nuclear Power 2010 program that accelerated the design and licensing of the AP1000 advanced-design reactors that will be built as part of the newly approved Plant Vogtle expansion in Georgia. The small reactor program is budgeted at $67 million in the current fiscal year.
“NEI welcomes the support for smaller reactors that offer a flexible approach to providing electricity supplies on a graduated scale in electricity markets, including remote areas. This emerging design also can be installed on the sites of existing fossil-fueled plants that have reached the end of their lifespan, and can be readily connected to the transmission grid,” Flint said.
Finally, while DOE’s budget request would provide $10 million from the federal Nuclear Waste Fund to assess implementation scenarios on the used nuclear fuel management recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, Flint said NEI had hoped the administration would take much bolder steps—including suspension of the waste fee—in response to the commission’s recommendations. The commission released its recommendations, many of which are supported by the industry, last month.
Nuclear power plants operating in 31 states provide 20 percent of all U.S. electricity, and 70 percent of the electricity that comes from low-carbon sources.