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Industry Urges Congress to Scrutinize NRC Operations in FY2016 Budget Request

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2015 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The nuclear energy industry is calling on federal appropriators to demand additional efficiencies at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and to reject the Obama administration's latest attempt to impose a multibillion-dollar tax on the industry for a federal facilities cleanup program that electric utilities already have funded.

Reacting to the administration's budget request for fiscal 2016, the industry also is urging Congress to ensure sufficient funding for nuclear waste management program activities, including money to advance the U.S. Department of Energy's license application for the proposed repository for used nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain, Nev.

DOE's budget request for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 is $29.9 billion, a 9.5 percent increase from the current budget; however, funding for nuclear energy programs would be cut to $907.5 million. The NRC budget proposal of $1.03 billion is 1.7 percent higher than the current budget.

"Given nuclear energy facilities' strong safety performance and the fact that several utilities' plans to add new nuclear generating capacity still are being shaped by the recession's lingering impact on electricity demand, the NRC's oversight priorities merit close scrutiny," said Alex Flint, the Nuclear Energy Institute's senior vice president for governmental affairs. "Reducing the cumulative impact of regulatory requirements—which includes some 60 rulemakings—remains a priority for NEI.

"The industry's primary goal is to ensure that our resources and regulatory resources are focused on those activities most significant to safety. That priority is being challenged by the workload that the NRC has imposed over the past decade. We urge Congress to insist upon NRC adherence to its principles of good regulation and so that nuclear energy facilities can most safely and effectively meet their customers' need for reliable, clean air electricity supplies."

The industry strongly opposes the latest attempt by the administration to tax consumers of electricity in more than 30 states for the cleanup of DOE uranium enrichment facilities. The government's Uranium Enrichment Decontamination and Decommissioning Fund has a balance of nearly $5 billion. The administration's attempt to impose a new tax of more than $200 million annually for 10 years comes despite the fact that the industry first paid for the expense when it purchased the fuel enriched at the facilities and then met an additional $2.6 billion cleanup obligation established under a 1992 law.

"We recognize that the federal government has significant budget pressures, but reinstating unjustified taxes on parties that have met their funding obligation while the government has failed to meet its funding obligation is outrageously unfair. The Uranium Enrichment D &D tax proposal should be dead on arrival in Congress," Flint said.

The importance of nuclear energy to the nation's economic and environmental well-being isn't reflected in the funding decrease for DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy, Flint said.

"Nuclear energy is uniquely capable of meeting our nation's need for 24/7 electricity generation from low-carbon sources. Surely there's room within a 10 percent budget increase for the Department of Energy to better support a technology that matters as much as to our nation's energy diversity and energy security as nuclear energy does. It makes absolutely no sense, for example, to zero out university nuclear energy programs as this budget request would do."

The fiscal 2016 budget proposal also includes $62.5 million to continue a public-private cost-sharing program to develop small reactor technology. NEI welcomes the administration's endorsement of this innovative program, Flint said.

The budget seeks $108 million for development of one or more facilities for used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste management using "consent-based siting" and preparations for transport of used nuclear fuel. However, it does not propose funding to advance the proposed Yucca Mountain repository program, even though DOE's license application for the facility is pending before the NRC. The request includes $345 million for the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina.

Nuclear energy facilities operating in 30 states provide electricity to one of every five U.S. homes and businesses.

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The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry's policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear energy are available at www.nei.org.

CONTACT:Contact NEI's media relations staff at media@nei.org, 202.739.8000 during business hours or 703.644.8805 after hours and weekends.

Source:Nuclear Energy Institute