Senate Passes $37.5 Billion Spending Bill for Energy and Water Programs

The U.S. Senate passed a $37.5 billion measure on May 12 to fund fiscal year 2017 Department of Energy (DOE) programs and critical infrastructure projects administered by the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation. The bill would increase FY2017 spending by $355 million over FY2016 enacted levels, giving $261 million more than was asked for in President Obama’s budget request.

The 2017 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill—coauthored by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)—received strong bipartisan support, passing with a vote of 90–8.

Among the allocations are $94.5 million slated for advanced nuclear reactor development and $95 million for small modular reactors. There is also funding to provide oversight to keep projects such as the Uranium Processing Facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., moving forward “on time and on budget,” according to Alexander.

The bill eliminates funding for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project in France. But the $125 million from that project isn’t pocketed; rather it is diverted to other endeavors within the Office of Science.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) would receive a $325 million appropriation. ARPA-E falls under the DOE’s umbrella and is designed to advance high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment.

The legislation includes a pilot program for consolidated nuclear waste storage. The program would allow the DOE to store nuclear waste at private facilities licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which could happen sooner rather than later.

Waste Control Specialists—a Dallas-based company—filed an application with the NRC to build and manage a Consolidated Interim Storage Facility (CISF) for used nuclear fuel on April 28. The company already operates a facility in Andrews, Texas, which opened in June 2013, for disposal of Class A, B, and C low-level waste and mixed low-level waste. It is the only privately owned and operated facility approved for that purpose.

But not everyone agrees with the concept of interim storage facilities. In an issue brief posted by The Heritage Foundation—a conservative think tank—interim storage is called “a short-sighted approach.”

“Even though it would allow the Department of Energy to contract with the private sector to build and operate such a facility, interim storage under the current waste management system only solves the government’s liability problem and side-steps the fundamental changes needed for a viable nuclear waste management system,” it said.

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)

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