House appropriations bill cuts MOX funding, slight increase for SRS overall

Congress released a consolidated appropriations bill late Sunday night that would keep the government from diving off a fiscal cliff if passed, and the bill allots money for Savannah River Site operations, including the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility through the end of this fiscal year, Sept. 30.

 

Funding for construction, environmental management and other operational missions at SRS saw an overall growth of about 2 percent.

The amount allocated for MOX indicates that the program lost funding. The bill provides $335 million for MOX construction, compared with the $340 million allocated last fiscal year, a loss of $5 million. The bill allocated $15 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s pursuit of dilute and dispose, the agency’s preferred alternative to MOX.

The Obama administration started the search for a MOX alternative several years ago, and in early 2016, the dilute and dispose method was officially announced in a Record of Decision from the Department of Energy.

The official departure from MOX, part of an international nonproliferation agreement, led Russian President Vladimir Putin to suspend the agreement, called the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, signed in 2000. After the Trump administration took over, additional support for MOX was expected. If that uptick in spending occurs, it will have to wait until appropriations bills fund the federal government in fiscal 2018.

“The cut in funding in MOX plant construction, though small, is a surprise,” said Tom Clements, the director of nuclear watchdog group Savannah River Site Watch. “The level of funding appropriated for MOX will keep the project barely alive for the remainder of the year but is a clear indication that its fate hangs in the balance and it could be officially terminated in the future.”

Other parts of the bill allocated funding for commercial nuclear groups such as the Nuclear Regulatory Committee, which oversees and inspects licensing for nondefense nuclear organizations and construction activities such as those at MOX and the Plant Vogtle expansion.

Maria Korsnick, the president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said this budget has come a long way since President Obama submitted his initial request last February.

“After working with Congress, we’ve seen significant progress in efforts to right-size NRC’s budget and preserve programs that will help support the nation’s nuclear reactors, a critical part of our infrastructure that supports 100,000 good-paying American jobs,” she said.

The House agreement allots more than $500 million for research and development in nuclear energy and other funding for programs to bolster infrastructure at nuclear power plants.

“The Appropriations for FY 2017 continues to drive transparency at NRC as Congress maintains vigorous oversight of the agency’s operations, reins in regulatory overreach and enacts responsible funding levels,” Korsnick said. “Together, these changes will result in an NRC that is more effective and more accountable to the American people.”

The resolution will get a vote in the House before moving to the Senate, and eventually the president’s desk. The government is operating on a continuing resolution that allows it to operate under last year’s funding levels but has already been extended once. To avoid a government shutdown, either another extension must be signed or this bill must pass the House and Senate to get the president’s seal of approval by Friday.

Reach Thomas Gardiner at (706) 823-3339

or thomas.gardiner@augustachronicle.com.

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