Hat tip to Nukes of HazardCongress released today its joint House-Senate omnibus appropriations bill, the FY 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act.
GNEP took a significant hit. The bill funds the program at $179 million, $216 million below the President’s request, and roughly halfway between the House level ($120 million) and Senate level ($243 million). House and Senate Democrats, facing a losing battle with Republicans over funding for domestic programs, whacked GNEP in an effort to support funding for domestic programs. The House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, nevertheless, had some harsh words for “the controversial initiative.”
Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP): $179 million, $216 million below the President’s request, for the controversial initiative to reprocess spent nuclear fuel and burn long-lived radioactive materials. This project will cost tens of billions of dollars and last for decades but it continues to raise concerns among scientists and has only weak support from industry.
The National Academy of Sciences published a report earlier this year that raised significant questions about the science behind the program and questioned the government's rush to build multi-billion dollar advanced nuclear fuel facilities. NAS said the program should be scaled back and it appears Congress has taken that advice.
The Federation of American Scientists, which somewhat triumphantly noted the demise of the GNEP funding, has this caution about the prospects for passage of the massive appropriations bill.This bill was agreed by the joint Senate-House conference committee and must be voted on the floor and is subject to amendment. Once a bill gets this far, however, amendments are hard, although certainly not impossible. And, finally, keep in mind that President Bush might veto the whole thing. If that happens, the Congress might just give up and fall back on a continuing resolution, which means the country just goes back to last year’s budget. But since last year we also had a continuing resolution, a second continuing resolution would put the country back to its Fiscal Year 2006 budget, which included money for GNEP.
In essence if Congress fails to come to terms with the President over the entire budget bill, the GNEP program will continue to operate at its FY2007 funding level perhaps until well into 2008. If Congress and the President come to terms, the lower funding level will be a major headache for everyone involved in the program including national labs.
Now there is also the matter of those 13 GNEP site proposals which are positioned in 11 states including two in Idaho. A combined site, with both spent fuel recycling and new fuel fabrication, could cost $15-20 billion assuming it was all built out over a period of perhaps as long as a decade.Public support for the massive construction program waxes and wanes depending mostly on the predisposition of communities to nuclear energy. In Idaho Falls last March the support was almost entirely positive, but in northern Illinois and southern Ohio, two other proposed GNEP sites, residents said the current state of nuclear stewardship wasn't to their liking and they didn't want any more of it. In Tennessee, Rep. Zack Wamp, who's district includes the DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, surprised his constituents by saying he wanted no part of GNEP's back end of the fuel cycle interfering with the science culture of the place.
Samuel Bodman, DOE Secretary, is still committed to making site selections in June 2008 even though it appears the cupboard will be bare when it comes to funding them.