The proposed 2015 budget for the US Department of Energy, of $27.9 billion, includes $863 million for nuclear energy R&D and SMR licensing technical support, compared to $1.6 billion for nuclear nonproliferation activities and $8.3 billion for nuclear weapons activities.

The budget also proposes putting the mixed oxide plutonium fuel programme in 'cold standby'. Antinuclear group Friends of the Earth reported in October 2013 that key decisions about the future of the project had been delayed, after the DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration posted changes to the contract for the company reviewing the project's environmental impacts. The programme is located at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, and was intended to make surplus plutonium unusable for weapons by mixing it with uranium in commercial reactor fuel. FOE said that the funding cut indicates that the Department of Energy is evaluating alternative technologies to reduce plutonium stockpiles in order to uphold a nonproliferation agreement with Russia.

NEI said that the programme was a 'cornerstone of US nonproliferation activities.'

"By all objective measurements, the MOX programme has proven to be a technological success, has achieved the highest levels of safety, and has served as an economic driver in South Carolina and nationally with more than 4000 American vendors in 43 states contributing to the effort," said Alex Flint, the Nuclear Energy Institute's senior vice president for governmental affairs.

The MOX fuel, which would be fabricated from recycled surplus defense-origin plutonium and uranium, is potentially a fuel for the domestic nuclear energy industry. American Nuclear Society spokesman Craig Piercy said at a March 5 teleconference that this was likely to be "the marquee issue" in the budget process, pitting fast reactor advocates in Congress against those favoring MOX as a means to use reprocessed fuel.

"The DOE said that its budget request is 2.6% above its actual 2014 level, and also envisages a reorganization of the department into three divisions: energy and science, nuclear security, and management and performance".

The DOE said that its budget request is 2.6% above its actual 2014 level, and also envisages a reorganization of the department into three divisions: energy and science, nuclear security, and management and performance.

Also, the Nuclear Energy Institute said that it was disconcerting that the Obama Administration had again suggested imposing a multi-billion-dollar tax for the cleanup of DOE-owned uranium enrichment facilities, which it said that the nuclear energy industry has rejected as redundant and unfair.

"Previous Congresses have rightly rejected this attempt to force the industry to again pay into the Decontamination and Decommissioning Fund, given that the industry long ago met its $2.6 billion financial commitment under a 1992 law for this important environmental protection program," said Flint. Meanwhile, Flint noted, the federal government has not met its own requirements to pay into the fund.

But it added, "other aspects of the budget, notably increased amounts to support small reactor development, are more in line with industry goals."

NEI said that most line items only saw modest changes, with a marked upward direction in those programs related to nuclear research and development, but said that the proposed budget also requests harsh cuts for programs to train the next generation of nuclear industry workers and advance nuclear energy education. It would zero out university programs that support scholarships, fellowships and junior faculty at four-year institutions and community colleges, as it has in previous years. Congress has restored the funds each time.

The US regulator has submitted a 1.06 billion request for 2015, which is about flat over 2014, but adds about 70 people to the 2014 budget of 3820 staff members, including the office of the inspector general, which independently conducts audits and investigations.
The budget request now goes to the US Congress for debate.

Date: Thursday, 06 March 2014
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