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IB88090 - Nuclear Energy Policy (pdf)

1-Mar-2002; Mark Holt and Carl E. Behrens; 19 p.

Update: President Bush’s FY2003 budget request, submitted to Congress February 4, would provide $38.5 million for a Department of Energy (DOE) effort to encourage deployment of new commercial nuclear power plants by 2010. The overall budget request for nuclear energy supply programs is $250.1 million, about $50 million below the FY2002 appropriation. A 40% increase is being sought for the DOE nuclear waste disposal program, to $527 million. According to DOE, the increase is needed for preparation of a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a proposed national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Funding for cleaning up contaminated DOE nuclear facilities would rise nearly 15%, to $6.7 billion, including an $800 million fund to pay for alternative cleanup strategies approved by environmental regulators. NRC is requesting a 5% spending increase, to $605.6 million. President Bush recommended to Congress February 15 that a license application be submitted to NRC to build a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. Nevada Governor Guinn announced the same day that he would exercise his right under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to send Congress a notice of disapproval for the Yucca Mountain site. That so-called “state veto” would block further action at the site unless a congressional resolution to approve the site were enacted into law within 90 days of continuous session after the state veto had been received. NRC announced February 14 that it would order nuclear power plants and other key nuclear facilities to implement enhanced security measures, in light of continued security threats. Some of the new measures were included in security recommendations issued to nuclear plants after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. NRC is continuing a “top to bottom” review of nuclear security regulations and procedures. The House approved a 15-year extension of the Price-Anderson Act nuclear liability system November 27 (H.R. 2983). The measure would raise the annual limit on payments to nuclear accident victims from $10 million to $15 million for each commercial reactor and allow nuclear plants consisting of several small modules to be treated as a single reactor under the Price-Anderson system. The bill would allow the federal government to recover at least some of any damages it was forced to pay on behalf of indemnified Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear contractors for accidents caused by intentional management misconduct. In addition, the bill would require NRC to issue new security regulations for nuclear power plants and the transportation of nuclear materials.

Abstract: Nuclear energy policy issues facing Congress include questions about radioactive waste management, research and development priorities, power plant safety and regulation, terrorism, the Price-Anderson Act accident liability system, nuclear weapons proliferation, and technology for producing nuclear fuel. Federal funding for nuclear energy research and development was substantially reduced by the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration proposed further cuts. However, in the Energy and Water Development Appropriations for FY2002 (P.L. 107- 66), Congress generally rejected those reductions. Several bills have been introduced in the 107 th Congress to encourage the growth of nuclear power. A number of nuclear provisions are included in comprehensive energy legislation (H.R. 4) passed by the House August 2, 2001. House and Senate companion nuclear energy bills (H.R. 1679, S. 472) would encourage production from existing reactors, encourage construction of new nuclear plants, and modify licensing procedures. Nuclear energy provisions are also included in omnibus energy legislation introduced by Senator Daschle December 5, and in a comprehensive energy bill introduced by Senator Murkowski (S. 388). The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States raised questions about nuclear power plant security. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) immediately recommended that U.S. reactors go to the highest security level and began evaluating plant security requirements. Reactor security provisions were included in a Price-Anderson extension bill passed by the House November 27, 2001 (H.R. 2983). An extra $36 million for nuclear power plant security was provided by the FY2002 supplemental appropriations bill, included in the FY2002 Defense Appropriations Bill (H.R. 3338), passed by Congress December 20, 2001. Disposal of highly radioactive waste has been one of the most controversial aspects of nuclear power. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (P.L. 97-425), as amended in 1987, requires DOE to begin detailed physical characterization of Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a permanent underground repository for high-level waste. Whether progress on nuclear waste disposal and other congressional action will revive the U.S. nuclear power industry’s growth will depend primarily on economic considerations. Natural gas- and coal-fired powerplants currently are favored over nuclear reactors for new generating capacity. However, rising energy prices and electricity shortages have led some utilities to consider building new reactors. Concern about the spread, or proliferation, of nuclear weapons throughout the world has risen sharply since longtime rivals India and Pakistan conducted competing nuclear weapons tests in May 1998. Recent heightened tensions in Southeast Asia have focused attention on the effectiveness of the international nuclear nonproliferation regime. In addition, the September 11 attacks have raised new concerns about the potential for terrorists to detonate nuclear explosives or radioactive “dirty bombs.”
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* These CRS reports were produced by the Congressional Research Service, a branch of the Library of Congress providing nonpartisan research reports to members of the House and Senate. The National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) has made these reports available to the public at large, but the Congressional Research Service is not affiliated with the NCSE or the National Library for the Environment (NLE). This web site is not endorsed by or associated with the Congressional Research Service. The material contained in the CRS reports does not necessarily express the views of NCSE, its supporters, or sponsors. The information is provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. NCSE disclaims all warranties, either express or implied, including the warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. In no event shall NCSE be liable for any damages.