House Appropriators Again Deny Pu-238 Funding in DOE Bill

House Appropriators Again Deny Pu-238 Funding in DOE Bill

Once again, congressional appropriators have turned down the Administration’s request for funding within the Department of Energy (DOE) bill to restart production of plutonium-238 (Pu-238) needed for NASA’s space probes.

In a report filed on Friday (H. Rept. 112-118 to accompany H. R. 2354), the House Appropriations Committee said that it remained concerned that the Administration wants DOE to pay for half the costs when it is NASA that benefits from the Pu-238.

“The Committee remains concerned that the Administration continues to request equal funding from NASA and the Department of Energy for a project that primarily benefits NASA. The Committee provides no funds for this project, and encourages the Administration to devise a plan for this project that more closely aligns the costs paid by federal agencies with the benefits they receive.”

This is the third time congressional appropriators have said no to providing DOE funds. in the FY2010 budget request, the Administration wanted DOE to fund all of the costs because historically DOE has built all of NASA’s radioisotope power supplies (RPS’s). DOE is the only U.S. entity permitted by law to make or store nuclear materials. NASA uses RPS’s to provide warmth and electricity for spacecraft that travel too far from the Sun to use solar energy or spend long periods in darkness on lunar or planetary surfaces.

The United States ceased production of Pu-238 years ago and NASA has been using Pu-238 purchased from Russia. Those supplies also are running dry, hence the need to restart production domestically. The National Research Council issued a report in 2009 calling the situation urgent.

In FY2010, Congress said no to DOE paying the full costs ($30 million). In the FY2011 budget request, the Administration proposed that NASA and DOE split the costs. Congress turned that down, too. The Administration requested the same thing for FY2012 and it does not look as though they have yet persuaded appropriators that DOE should pay half.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.