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Donald Trump’s budget proposal for 2021 earmarks $1.2 billion for nuclear energy research and development and related programs. That’s significantly more than the $824 million Trump proposed in his budget the previous year. Even with the sizable increase in requested funds, the amount is less than the $1.5 billion that Congress allocated for nuclear energy last year.
Trump sold the bump in funding as a way to promote “revitalization of the domestic industry and the ability of domestic technologies to compete abroad.” His administration also wants to ramp up uranium production in the US, calling it “an issue of national security.”
Stocks tied to uranium & nuclear energy moving higher-$CCJ $UEC (micro cap)Per @FactSet: could be fueled by White House FY2021 budget proposal that requests $1.2B for R&D & other nuclear energy programs, and looks to establishes a U.S. Uranium reserve— Morgan Brennan (@MorganLBrennan) February 10, 2020
Keeping the nation’s nuclear reactors online has been a priority for Trump since taking office. Two bills he signed into law sped up the development of advanced nuclear reactors and streamlined the permitting processes. He’s also allocated funds, including $300 million in this year’s proposal, toward a Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) meant to test and develop advanced reactor fuels and materials. Nuclear power currently makes up 20 percent of the US energy mix and half of its carbon-free electricity. Nevertheless, nuclear energy has struggled to gain a larger foothold in the US.
“I personally do not see nuclear power as a way around the production of greenhouse gas emissions,” former executive director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute Steven Cohen tells The Verge in an email. “On the other hand, scientific research on nuclear energy as well as other forms of energy and energy storage should be a high priority for our national labs and research universities.”
Among Democrats and environmentalists, scaling up nuclear power as a potential climate change fix has been a divisive, hot-button issue. Fans say the technology is now much safer than previous iterations, and that it’s a necessary tool alongside wind and solar in the battle to stop climate change. Detractors focus on the high costs of nuclear energy and point out that the US still doesn’t exactly know what to do with all its nuclear waste.
nuclear power as a potential climate change fix has been a divisive, hot-button issue
Last week, Trump seemingly backed away from a proposed waste site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, which has been controversial ever since it was proposed in 1987. The proposed dump for radioactive waste is political kryptonite for someone who might want the state’s votes (Trump lost Nevada in 2016). “Nevada, I hear you on Yucca Mountain and my Administration will RESPECT you!” Trump tweeted on February 6th. “My Administration is committed to exploring innovative approaches – I’m confident we can get it done!” Trump had previously asked for funds to complete the nuclear waste repository in previous budget proposals.
While environmentalists continue to debate the pros and cons of nuclear energy, Trump does not appear to be boosting nuclear as a specifically environmental priority. His budget proposal also slashed the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 26 percent.
Trump’s $4.8 trillion budget proposal still needs to make its way through Congress, where it’s likely to face a fight. But there has been bipartisan support for nuclear energy in the past — last year, Congress upped the 2020 budget for nuclear energy by nearly $700 million.
“This sends a strong message that the Department of Energy (DOE) is all in on new nuclear,” Rita Baranwal, assistant secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy, said in a statement after Trump signed off on the 2020 spending bill in December.