Congress approves nuclear energy funding for FY2021

23 December 2020

The US Congress voted to approve appropriations for fiscal year 2021 that includes USD1.5 billion for the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy. The appropriations also include USD150 million to initiate the uranium reserve programme to address challenges to the production of domestic uranium.

The US Capitol building in Washington, DC (Image: Architect of the Capital)

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, approved by Congress on 21 December, funds USD900 billion in coronavirus relief and appropriates USD1.4 trillion in government spending for fiscal year 2021 (1 October 2020-30 September 2021).

The total appropriation for the Department of Energy (DOE) is USD42.04 billion, which is USD3.45 billion above the FY2020-enacted level and USD6.31 billion above the budget request. This includes USD1.5 billion allocated for nuclear energy research, development and demonstration activities, including USD280 million for the Advanced Reactors Demonstration Program, which was announced in May.

The appropriation also includes USD27.5 million for DOE expenses necessary for nuclear waste disposal activities to carry out the purposes of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, including interim storage activities. Of this, USD7.5 million will come from the Nuclear Waste Fund.

Congress' approval of the FY2021 appropriations was welcomed by the Nuclear Energy Institute. Maria Korsnick, the organisation's president and CEO, said it "signalled the importance of nuclear energy as the country moves to an increasingly decarbonised economy".

She added, "This legislation demonstrates growing confidence in our nation's largest source of carbon-free energy, while building on efforts to ensure nuclear energy is properly valued alongside wind and solar in the United States' carbon-free energy future".

Craig Piercy, executive director and CEO of the American Nuclear Society (ANS), said the FY2021 appropriations are "a strong step in the right direction" but significantly higher levels of R&D investments in low-carbon energy technologies, including nuclear, are still needed to halt climate change through rapid deep decarbonisation.

Uranium reserve

Establishment of a uranium reserve was recommended in April by a presidential working group tasked with analysing national security considerations with respect to the entire nuclear fuel supply chain. This followed on from a Section 232 Petition from two US uranium miners, Energy Fuels Inc and Ur-Energy Corporation, which called for a quota on uranium imports. The reserve would ensure a backup supply of uranium in the event of a significant market disruption and support the operation of at least two US uranium mines.

Uranium Energy Corp said Congress' approval of the funding for the 10-year US uranium reserve is "a very positive step forward" for the domestic uranium mining industry "with clear bipartisan and bicameral support".

The company's Chairman and former US Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said: "This key development is a shot in the arm to the uranium mining sector, and we expect to see Washington build on this programme and take other appropriate actions to strengthen our sector."

In a separate statement, Energy Fuels President and CEO Mark Chalmers said the creation of a uranium reserve is "truly a milestone" for the industry, and that USD75 million "will go a long way" towards reviving and expanding the domestic production of nuclear fuel in 2021 and beyond. "We look forward to working with the US Department of Energy to make sure this funding is spent wisely to support existing infrastructure by purchasing uranium from existing, proven uranium facilities," he added.

Ur-Energy said funding of the uranium reserve, as recommended by the Working Group and passed with bipartisan support in Congress, is critical to preserving existing infrastructure in the nuclear fuel cycle. The next, equally important step will be the passage of the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act which will authorise the DOE to establish the uranium reserve programme and begin making purchases from US uranium miners, it said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News