US awards waste contract; Progress wins back costs

23 May 2008

The US Court of Federal Claims has awarded Progress Energy $82.8 million to cover used fuel management costs incurred as a result of the government's failure to provide used fuel management. Meanwhile, the Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded up to $13.8 million in contracts for waste storage canisters for the long-awaited repository for used fuel at Yucca Mountain. Legal rulings on low-level and ex-military waste have also been made in Washington and Texas.


Under US law, the DOE was required to open a federal repository for used fuel by the end of January 1998. It failed to do this, and since then utilities have had to provide onsite storage for their used fuel at power plants, incurring extra costs even though they have already paid over $18 billion into a fund to pay for the repository through a levy towards final disposal. Progress' award is the latest in a series of some 60 lawsuits launched by US utilities to try to recover the extra costs they have incurred from DOE's failure to take their spent fuel.


Progress Energy operates five reactors in the Carolinas and Florida, and originally filed for $91 million to cover costs incurred between 31 January 1998 and 31 December 2005 (costs incurred after 2005 can be recovered in future claims). The US Department of Justice is expected to appeal the decision.


Canisters for Yucca


Meanwhile, the DOE has awarded two contracts worth up to $13.8 million in total for the design, licensing and demonstration of a canister system for use at the proposed Yucca Mountain repository to Areva Federal Services and NAC International.


The Transport, Aging and Disposal (TAD) canister system will be the primary means used for packaging spent fuel for transportation to and disposal in the Nevada repository, according to the DOE. Edward Sproat, Director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, described the move as "a significant step in the Department's efforts to license and construct the repository at Yucca Mountain."


DOE envisages that most used fuel would be permanently sealed in the casks at utility sites before transport to Yucca Mountain. The canisters could be commercially available as soon as 2013 and will meet all the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requirements for storage and transportation of ised fuel as well as the DOE's technical requirements for long-term waste isolation during disposal.


Court rules against State



Hanford site (Image: DOE)

A law drawn up by the state of Washington to stop the federal government bringing more waste to the Hanford disposal site until cleanup work at the existing site is cleared up has been overturned by the US Court of Appeals.


The 586 square mile Hanford site, which hosted a plutonium production complex with nine nuclear reactors and associated processing facilities, played a pivotal role in US defence for more than 40 years starting with the Manhattan Project of the 1940s. It is now the subject of what has been described as the world's largest environmental cleanup project. The site also contains facilities for disposal of low-level radioactive waste, but the state of Washington passed the so-called Cleanup Priority Act to try to prevent the DOE shipping waste from other cleanup sites for disposal at Hanford. The Court of Appeals ruled that state law would infringe federal rules applying to radioactive wastes and the DOE's ability to dispose of it.


Texas go-ahead


WCS_Andrews County 
WCS's Andrews County facility (Image: WCS)
In Texas, state regulators have given the go-ahead for the disposal radioactive byproduct material at Waste Control Specialists' (WCS's) Andrews County facility. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's (TCEQ's) decision was welcomed by WCS president Rodney Baltzer, who described the TECQ's 4-year review of his company's application as "thorough and exhaustive". "Our site in Andrews County is one of the – if not the – most characterized, analyzed, modelled and monitored sites in the country," he added.


The new licence will allow WCS permanently to dispose of by-product material, which the company describes as residues left over from uranium mining, including uranium or thorium mill tailings as well as equipment, pipes and other material used to handle and process mill tailings.