A bill approved by a U.S. Senate subcommittee on Tuesday would give $5.144 billion to the federal agency that oversees work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It’s the highest level of funding ever for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which oversees 10 national labs, including ORNL, federal officials said.
The bill would also provide $430 million for the proposed Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex, which will “continue to keep this project on time and on budget,” according to a press release from the office of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican.
Alexander’s office also said the legislation would provide funding for:
- a new mercury treatment plant in Oak Ridge,
- cleanup of nuclear facilities that are no longer in service,
- nuclear infrastructure at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and
- advanced computing, which supports the new Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The bill was unanimously approved on a voice vote by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development on Tuesday afternoon. Alexander is chair of that subcommittee, and he said the approval shows that there is bipartisan support for energy research, waterways, and national security.
The legislation is scheduled to be considered by the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday. It’s one of the first two appropriations bills ready to be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee this year.
“We are one step closer to doubling basic energy research, removing major obstacles to nuclear power, cleaning up hazardous materials at Cold War facilities, and solving critical problems facing our country,” Alexander said in a press release.
Alexander said the bill includes crucial oversight: “Every year, Senator Dianne Feinstein and I have proposed eliminating at least one low-priority program to reduce waste and conduct proper oversight. This year we are eliminating funding for the U.S. contribution to ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in France. This saves $150 million this year.”
According to Alexander’s office, the bill approved by the subcommittee on Tuesday includes the following priorities:
- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be able to restart construction in fiscal year 2016 of Chickamauga Lock, which is funded by the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and the federal government. In this legislation, $29 million will be available to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because of Chickamauga Lock’s high position on the priority list of essential American waterways to be rebuilt, an amount that is sufficient to restart construction of Chickamauga Lock.
- The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which supports basic energy research and is the nation’s largest supporter of research in the physical sciences, is funded at $5.144 billion, the highest level of funding it has ever received in the bill.
- Advanced computing, which supports the new Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is funded at $620.9 million. Once again, the world’s fastest next-generation supercomputer will be at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Alexander said. A total of $1.24 billion is provided for advanced computing, including both the Office of Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration.
- Exascale computing, which Alexander said is essential to our national security and competitiveness in science and technology, is funded at $222 million.
- The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is funded at $291 million. ARPA-E was created by the America COMPETES Act to invest in high-impact energy technologies.
- The legislation includes a pilot program to allow consolidated nuclear waste storage, supported by Alexander and Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, the subcommittee’s ranking member, over the past three years. It also includes language that allows the Department of Energy to store nuclear waste at private facilities, such as those proposed in Texas and New Mexico.
- Nuclear infrastructure at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, including hot cells and isotope production facilities, is funded in the bill. Many of the isotopes produced at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are not available anywhere else in the world, and are necessary to support medical treatments, oil and gas exploration, and deep-space satellites, among other priorities.
- The Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex is funded at $430 million, which will continue to keep this project on time and on budget.
- $62.5 million is provided to continue to move forward with the development of small modular reactors, which Alexander said will give utilities and the military the ability to generate clean energy in new ways.
- The bill includes funding for a new mercury treatment facility in Oak Ridge, and for cleanup of nuclear facilities that are no longer in service.
- The bill cuts funding for several wasteful programs at the Department of Energy, including eliminating $150 million for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in France and providing $100.5 million below the president’s budget request for wind programs.
The spending levels in the Senate subcommittee bill appear to differ some from those included in a House version of the so-called energy and water bill for fiscal year 2016, which begins October 1. Any differences would have to be reconciled before Congress could act and present a bill to the president.