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article imageNo nuclear waste facility built but billions in fees collected

By Ken Hanly     May 17, 2014 in Environment
Washington - As of yesterday, May 16, Americans who use power produced by nuclear plants will no longer pay a small fee on their electric bill that was originally meant to fund a nuclear waste dump. The facility was never built.
The charge started back in 1983 to eventually fund a facility that would process what is now estimated at around 70,000 metric tons of very radioactive spent fuel. At present the waste is still at nuclear reactors across the United States.
The charge yielded $750 million each year or $43 billion in all. Washington has not said what it plans to do with the funds already collected. Michigan Public Service Commissioner Greg White said: “From the very infancy of the commercial nuclear power industry, the federal government has always stated that it would take responsibility for the (disposal) of high-level nuclear waste, and that hasn’t always happened, The waste all sits at the plant sites where it was generated, despite the collection of some $40 billion.”
In large amounts the radioactive waste is an environmental hazard and must be safely stored not to be a hazard to public health. Storage is expensive. The Department of Energy removed the fee after a protracted legal battle:
Power companies and state regulators successfully fought the Energy Department over the matter, saying the government has been collecting the fee for 30 years but won’t begin disposing of nuclear waste for another 34 years.
Last year, an appeals court claimed that the government did not intend to build the facility for which it was collecting via the fee. The court ordered the Energy Department to stop collecting the fee. Six months later the government complied. Jay Silberg who was lead attorney for the industries involved said: “The federal courts have gotten fed up with what the Department of Energy is doing, We want something in exchange for our money.”
The individual amount on each bill will be less than a cent so customers will not notice any difference. A trust fund contains about $31 billion of the fees collected and is collecting interest so if a storage facility is planned in the future there will be significant start-up funding. An initial $12 billion was spent trying to develop a facility in Yucca Mountain Nevada. However, after opposition to the project it was stopped by the Obama administration.
Marta Adams, chief deputy attorney general in Nevada who led Nevada's efforts to block the development of a facility in Yucca Mountain Nevada said: "I don't see how it is a terrific win for anybody, It relieves consumers of this charge but it doesn't get rid of the waste."
The Energy Department meanwhile said that it hoped that it could find a solution that would satisfy everyone: “When this administration took office, the timeline for opening Yucca Mountain had already been pushed back by two decades, stalled by public protest and legal opposition with no end in sight,”
Representative John Shimkus, who is chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on the Environment and Economy said he welcomed the end to the collection of the fee but said that the government must continue to pursue a plan for a nuclear waste site: “To get our nuclear future back on track, the secretary simply needs to carry out that obligation and restart Yucca Mountain, Short of that, I am glad this annual theft of $750 million from electricity consumers has finally come to an end.”
More about Nuclear waste, US Energy Department, Yucca Mountain project
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