Biggert: Nuclear Fuel Research Will Lower Future Energy Costs
Washington, DC - Funding for two key nuclear research programs could provide relief from high heating bills, according to U.S. Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL-13), Chairman of the Energy Subcommittee of the House Science Committee and long-time advocate for advanced nuclear energy technologies. Funding secured by Biggert in the Fiscal Year 2006 Energy and Water Appropriations Conference Report will be used to expand nuclear fuel reprocessing and recycling research and development at Argonne National Laboratory, which could lead to increased use of nuclear energy as an alternative to producing electricity from natural gas.
"If we don't continue to pursue alternative, emissions-free energy sources like nuclear fuel, we are at risk of increasing our dependence on costly natural gas," said Biggert. "As the price of natural gas goes up, so does the overall cost to heat our homes and offices. Ninety-five percent of my constituents who rely on natural gas to heat their homes, cook, dry their clothes or heat their water saw their bills nearly triple in the last four years. We can no longer afford to sit back and absorb these escalating costs."
Biggert secured $80 million for the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative (AFCI), a cutting-edge program that promises to reduce the volume and toxicity of spent nuclear fuel in the United States in an environmentally sensitive and proliferation-resistant way. This funding will help Argonne expedite development of the UREX+ process and technologies, which domestic and international experts acknowledge is the best method, both technically and economically, for recycling spent nuclear fuel. It also would reduce the volume of our nuclear waste, so much so that another repository like Yucca Mountain will not be necessary, and that waste would require monitoring and storage for hundreds rather than thousands of years.
"The bulk of what we call nuclear waste' is actually nuclear fuel' that still contains over 90 percent of its original energy content," Biggert said. "Scientists at research laboratories like Argonne continue to develop and perfect ways to recycle this so-called waste' and turn it back into useful fuel."
As Energy Subcommittee Chairman, Biggert held two Congressional hearings this summer on the topic of nuclear fuel reprocessing, recycling and waste management technologies, which raised awareness and identified research priorities needed to effectively and readily develop these technologies. As a result, Conference Report provided an additional $50 million for DOE initiative to develop an Integrated Spent Fuel Recycling Plan, which would provide additional research funds to design an Engineering Scale Demonstration of advanced recycling technology. This represents an overwhelming increase of $35 million above what the House recommended appropriating earlier this year.
"We know how to use nuclear energy, and we know how to use it safely," Biggert said. "If we are to meet the growing electricity demand in the United States without significantly increasing emissions of greenhouse gases, we must maintain a diverse supply of electricity, and nuclear power must be part of that mix."
While over 90 percent of power plants currently under construction use the same non-renewable fuel - natural gas - driving demand and prices up, no new nuclear power plant has been built in the U.S. in over 30 years. Nuclear energy is the only carbon-free source of electricity that is currently operating on a commercial scale nation-wide. Currently, the State of Illinois derives 50 percent of its electricity from emissions-free nuclear power and also is home to the most nuclear waste of any state in the nation.
The Conference Report requires the DOE Secretary to submit a detailed spent nuclear fuel recycling plan to Congress by March 31, 2006, and to initiate the site selection competition not later than June 30, 2006. The target for site selection is fiscal year 2007, and the target for initiation of construction of one or more integrated spent fuel recycling facilities is fiscal year 2010.
Also included in the Conference Report at Biggert's request:
* $3.6 billion for the DOE Office of Science, which funds 40 percent of the nation's basic physical sciences research critical to our national and scientific competitiveness. Between 10 to 15 percent of the total $3.6 billion Office of Science budget will go to Illinois. Only California gets more in funding from the Office of Science than Illinois;
* $237 million for High Performance Computing to develop and maintain the research and deployment of high-performance computers like those used at Argonne. High performance computers play a key role in several areas of scientific research, including modeling the earth's climate, developing fusion energy and pharmaceuticals, and understanding cellular structures;
* $4 million for the Rare Isotope Accelerator (RIA), a one-of-a-kind, world-class user facility that will create the world's rarest isotopes, enabling advancements in nuclear physics, astrophysics, biology, medicine, food safety, environmental protection and restoration. The Conference Report also included language directing the DOE to make tangible progress on a plan for RIA.
The House yesterday passed the Fiscal Year 2006 Energy and Water Appropriations Conference Report by a vote 399 to 17. The Senate is expected to pass the Conference Report by the end of the week, which would send it to the President's desk for his signature.