US utilities, regulators sue DoE over waste fund

06 April 2010

Sixteen electricity utilities, together with US nuclear industry organisation the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Energy (DoE) seeking a suspension of payments into the country's nuclear waste fund. The suit follows a similar one filed days before by state utility regulators.
On 2 March, the National Association of Utility Regulators (NARUC), which represents state regulators and public utility commissions, filed a lawsuit against the DoE's decision to continue collecting fees for the management of spent nuclear fuel pending a decision on the country's future waste disposal strategy. Now, together with sixteen nuclear utilities, the NEI has also filed a suit with the same court, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, seeking suspension of the fee.
A fee of one-tenth of a cent for every kilowatt-hour of nuclear generation has been levied by the DoE since the Nuclear Waste Fund was established by Congress in 1982. The fund was set up to pay for the transportation and permanent disposal of commercial nuclear waste. However, since the Obama administration decided to terminate the project to build a permanent waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, DoE is still a long way from fulfilling its promise to move and safely dispose of the waste.
Following on from the decision to halt work on Yucca Mountain, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future was announced earlier this year, tasked with developing a new strategy for nuclear waste management in the US. This could potentially include options such as reprocessing and recycling of spent fuel.
With the waste management project effectively on hold pending the findings of the Blue Ribbon Commission, both NARUC and the utilities, together with the NEI, say that collection of the Nuclear Waste Fund fee should be suspended until a new management program for spent fuel has been finalised. According to the NEI, the fee raises revenues of around $750 million for the fund every year, with the fund currently standing at over $24 billion.
The lawsuits follow requests for suspension of the payments made to the DoE by both NEI and NARUC in July 2009. Under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, DoE was supposed to begin taking used fuel from nuclear energy facilities from 1998. As a result of its failure to meet this obligation, the federal government has been sued by a number of utilities, which have been awarded compensation totalling some $1 billion by US courts.
'Actionable determination'


NARUC's petition says that DoE's rejection of its request to suspend the fee is an actionable determination that can be challenged in court, but the organisation's president, David Coen, said the decision had not been taken lightly. The organisation was hopeful that the Blue Ribbon Commission would chart a workable path. "But until that time, there is no need to assess these fees on our consumers, particularly when we have no idea what solutions the Commission will suggest, and whether they will be implemented," Coen said.
The sixteen utilities joining NEI in its litigation are Florida Power & Light Co; NextEra Energy Seabrook, LLC; NextEra Energy Duane Arnold, LLC; NextEra Energy Point Beach, LLC; Omaha Public Power District; PSEG Nuclear, LLC; Indiana Michigan Power Co; Energy Northwest; PPL Susquehanna, LLC; The Detroit Edison Co; Nebraska Public Power District; Northern States Power Co; Kansas Gas and Electric Co; Kansas City Power & Light Co; Kansas Electric Power Cooperative, Inc; and Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp.
The Blue Ribbon Commission is expected to provide its recommendations within two years. However, the Obama administration's opinion that Yucca Mountain is 'not an option' is not universally held, and the NEI, among others, is lobbying to keep open the option to resume the licensing process for the repository.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News