Situation not as dire as predicted, but overall funding level is unchanged
Two weeks ago advocates of funding for nuclear energy R&D came unglued when a trade newsletter reported that the budget for this work for 2011 has been slashed to ribbons by OMB. Notices of the death of the nuclear R&D budget, as laid out in a strongly-worded letter from Energy Secretary Chu, might now be seen as premature, but his advocacy must have weighed in the balance.
Someone in the White House had a light bulb go off. The President cannot on one hand call for more nuclear energy in the State of the Union address and then also slash the nuclear program budget at DOE. This is a sure way to undo overtures to the Republicans in favor of nuclear energy whose votes you need for climate change legislation.
However, after watching the walnuts fly to see which one covers the pea, the end result is a modest increase of $37 million of which half is for DOE program management. Despite some name changes, and a realigned focus on longer term R&D programs, the actual funding level and work scope are relatively unchanged from 2010.
The Nuclear Power 2010 program worth $105M is dropped, but it is replaced by a $65M increase for fuel cycle r&d and a catch all title called Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies for $99M. Gen IV R&D for $220M is eliminated, which sounds dire, but another sweeping activity called Reactor Concepts R&D for $195M shows up in its place. Throw in another couple of cats & dogs in the $3-5M range and the differences are mostly made up.
What it looks like is that OMB kept the basic funding level the same while giving DOE the latitude to re-align some of its R&D priorities to longer-term reactor technology development. That’s probably not a bad idea. The government’s most useful role is to take on the high risk, long-term R&D that industry won’t touch because it doesn’t have a payback within the job term of the current CEO.
The budget document with the numbers and top-level program information is on the DOE web site. Check Pg. 45-47 of this file for the nuclear energy budget. The rest of the DOE budget for 2011 is on the agency’s web site. You can slice it and dice it a number of different ways, but the President’s budget is just the starting gun in the race for appropriations. At least with this document, all the horses are at the gate.
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