What: All Issues : Government Checks on Corporate Power : Nuclear Industry : (H.R. 2354) On an amendment that would have required the Energy Department to set aside $10 million for the production of Plutonium 238, a radioactive isotope that can be used for the production of nuclear energy (2011 house Roll Call 552)
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(H.R. 2354) On an amendment that would have required the Energy Department to set aside $10 million for the production of Plutonium 238, a radioactive isotope that can be used for the production of nuclear energy
house Roll Call 552     Jul 12, 2011
Progressive Position:
Yea
Progressive Result:
Loss

This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) that would have required the Energy Department to set aside $10 million for the production of Plutonium 238, a toxic, radioactive isotope that can be used for the production of nuclear energy. This amendment was offered to legislation providing annual funding for Energy Department programs and the Army Corps of Engineers in fiscal year 2012.

Schiff’s amendment was strongly supported by proponents of space exploration, including physicists’ groups; Plutonium 238 is used to provide power to places where no other sources exist--including deep space. Thus, supporters of Schiff’s amendment contend that Plutonium 238 is vital to space exploration.

Schiff urged support for his amendment: “Advancing the state of nuclear energy technology was the initial mission of the DOE [the Department of Energy], and it was hugely successful, developing technologies now used in power plants, submarines and deep space missions. This last focus is now one of the smallest: DOE spends about $40 million a year building plutonium-238 radioisotope thermal generators, RTGs, for NASA and for national security purposes. This program began in the fifties. RTGs flew on all of the Apollo missions and many times since. In deep space, RTGs are often the only possible source of power. Unfortunately, in the early nineties, the U.S. shut down plutonium-238 production, and since then, the Department of Energy has been using stockpiled material and material purchased from Russia to build these devices. Recently, though, Russia refused to continue that relationship, and our supply of plutonium-238 is almost exhausted. There are no other viable ways to provide this power, so the U.S. must restart production to allow any deep space or national security uses to continue.”

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) opposed Schiff’s amendment: “The gentleman's [Rep. Schiff’s] amendment increases funding for the plutonium-238 production restart project, as it's called. To do so, funding for other valuable nuclear energy activities would have to be cut, including the advanced reactor concept research, fuel cycle development, and promising avenues like small modular reactors licensing and research. The [Obama] administration has proposed this new project for several years in order to increase domestic supplies of plutonium-238….The funding plans in…the amendment simply don't make sense, particularly given the other critical priorities in this bill.”

The House rejected this amendment by a vote of 167-257. Voting “yea” were 107 Democrats—including a majority of progressives—and 60 Republicans. 178 Republicans and 79 Democrats voted “nay” As a result, the House rejected an amendment that would have required the Energy Department to set aside $10 million for the production of Plutonium 238.

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