Editor’s note: This article is adapted from an August 11 post on FOR YOUR INFORMATION, which reports on federal science policy. Both FOR YOUR INFORMATION and physics today are published by the American Institute of Physics.
Today, President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a landmark program of spending and tax reform that includes the most sweeping measures the United States has ever implemented. works to mitigate climate change. The law also strengthens science facility projects at the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories.
Facing unified Republican opposition, Democrats negotiated the content of the partisan bill last year to gain the necessary unanimous support within their ranks in the Senate to pass it using the congressional budget reconciliation process. The IRA cleared the most crucial hurdle on August 7 with a 51-50 vote in the Senate. The House temporarily returned from recess to approve the measure on Friday.
The climate-related provisions of the law will cost around $370 billion over several years and mainly include measures, such as tax incentives and subsidies, aimed at decarbonizing the economy and building resilience to environmental risks. Under this funding, billions of dollars are allocated for scientific research and technology development, including a one-time $2 billion increase for projects in DOE laboratories that are not directly related to climate change.
Remains to build back better
IRA funding for DOE lab projects falls far short of the nearly $23 billion the House Science Committee proposed last year to meet the infrastructure needs of science agencies as part of the broader Build Back Better Act. When House Democrats cut that bill in an effort to gain more support, the money for science infrastructure was largely dropped. But some funding for the DOE labs was later reinstated by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).
Manchin quickly withdrew his support for the Build Back Better Act, halting its progress, and since then has been the primary gatekeeper to all efforts to pass a revised version. Although the IRA was, at Manchin’s insistence, narrowly focused on climate and energy, health care and tax reform, a fraction of the DOE lab funding he had previously advanced still went in. in the final version.
All laboratory funds under the new law will be immediately earmarked and will remain available through fiscal year 2027. The list below details the funding that individual DOE program offices will receive; the department has the discretion to decide which projects to spend the money on.
High Energy Physics ($304 million). The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility and Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (LBNF/DUNE) project is a likely candidate to receive a share of the funding, as it has experienced cost growth of over $1 billion in recent years. The DOE extended the project schedule to accommodate the increase; while it was once hoped that science operations would begin in 2026, the facility is now expected to be ready by the early 2030s. In addition to delaying research opportunities, this outcome would likely leave the project significantly behind the Japanese Hyper- Kamiokande planned in the race to be the first to make some key neutrino measurements. US LBNF/DUNE project manager Chris Mossey indicated last year that with more funding it would technically be possible to complete construction up to a few years earlier.
Other high-energy physics projects that could benefit from funding include US contributions to the upcoming luminosity upgrades at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. For now, DOE is aiming to catch up on a shortfall in project funds this fiscal year. Additionally, the Cosmic Microwave Background Stage 4 project is currently only receiving token support for early planning work.
Nuclear Physics ($217 million). Construction of the nuclear physics program’s flagship electron-ion collider (EIC) will ramp up at Brookhaven National Laboratory following the planned shutdown of the lab’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in 2025. The EIC project director, Jim Yeck, recently testified before Congress that the project needs additional funding much sooner to prepare for construction and avoid layoffs of RHIC staff members who have the expertise needed for the new collider. Besides the EIC, the nuclear physics program is considering a ton-scale neutrinoless double beta decay experiment, but it has yet to provide significant funding for an experiment.
Basic Energy Sciences ($295 million). The DOE’s Basic Energy Sciences program manages a large portfolio of construction projects at its user facilities. One possible candidate for additional funding is the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Spallation Neutron Source Second Target Station Project. The station is expected to cost around $2 billion and would help alleviate a chronic shortage of capacity for neutron scattering research in the United States, but it is still on the back burner. Other projects that could be accelerated include a follow-up upgrade to the nearly completed Linac Coherent Light Source-II facility at SLAC and construction of beamlines at Brookhaven’s National Synchrotron Light Source II facility.
Fusion Energy Sciences ($280 million). The US contribution to the international ITER facility under construction in France is the main project supported by the DOE’s Fusion Energy Sciences program. Last year, the head of the US project office for ITER, Kathy McCarthy, testified before Congress that the United States was $97 million short of its commitment to the project. The CHIPS and Science Act that was signed into law on August 9 also recommends that Congress significantly increase the annual US contribution going forward. In addition to ITER, the fusion program plans to upgrade SLAC’s Matter in Extreme Conditions terminal station to increase US capability for high-intensity laser research. But funding for that project has been cut as the DOE deliberates its scope.
Advanced Scientific Computing ($164 million). The DOE is completing the installation of exascale computers at Oak Ridge and Argonne National Laboratories, and it’s unclear which follow-up projects might be eligible for IRA funding under the Advanced Scientific Computing Research program. However, the program plans to build a facility that will help manage the growing volume of data produced by DOE science facilities. The CHIPS and Science Act also directs the DOE to expand the quantum network infrastructure program’s work, recommending an annual budget of $100 million.
Isotope Program ($158 million). Oak Ridge plans to build a stable isotope production and research center and a radioisotope processing facility to increase national production of critical isotopes. Work on the former facility has not yet fully started, and the second remains in an early design phase. Concerns about isotope supply chains have recently become more urgent due to the war in Ukraine and Russia’s role as a major supplier of isotopes and uranium used to fuel isotope production reactors .
Laboratory infrastructure ($583 million). The IRA includes $133 million for general infrastructure projects in laboratories overseen by the DOE Office of Science. It also provides $450 million for infrastructure and general plant projects, split equally between the DOE offices of Nuclear Power, Fossil Power and Carbon Management, and Energy Efficiency. and renewable energies.
Other science and technology efforts
In addition to supporting scientific research, the ERI’s wide range of decarbonisation measures include provisions to encourage the deployment and commercialization of new technologies. It notably multiplies the capacity of the DOE’s Office of Lending Programs, primarily by authorizing the office, through a temporary program, to guarantee up to $250 billion in loans for energy infrastructure projects. The act also earmarks more than $5.8 billion for a program of the DOE’s new Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations that will support projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at industrial facilities.
In addition, the IRA aims to encourage the deployment of a new generation of nuclear reactors by allocating $700 million to accelerate the availability of the High Dosage Low Enriched Uranium (HALEU) fuel that many of these reactors will use. HALEU is uranium enriched so that between 5% and 20% of its weight is made up of the highly fissile isotope uranium-235. Russia is currently the world’s largest supplier of HALEU, and even before the invasion of Ukraine, Congress was keen to develop domestic sources.
Within the Department of Transport, the ERI allocates $245 million to fund projects related to the production of sustainable aviation fuel and $47 million for projects related to low-emission aviation technology.
Among its other funds for NOAA, the IRA provides $490 million for climate and weather research and forecasting activities. The act also includes $23.5 million for the US Geological Survey’s 3D elevation program, which provides high-resolution topographic data with a variety of uses, including in climate resilience, disaster response and the deployment of clean energy.