|Congressional Research Service Reports
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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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