Zero day for US nuclear waste fee

16 May 2014

The US Department of Energy (DoE) has stopped collecting nuclear waste fees from utilities, 16 years after missing its own deadline to open a permanent waste disposal site. The suspension of the fees has been welcomed by industry.

The DoE announced earlier this month that it would cease the collection of the fee as of 16 May in response to a November 2013 ruling by the US Court of Appeals, following a lawsuit filed on behalf of utilities and regulators by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). The court instructed the US energy secretary to "change the fee to zero" pending either compliance with the existing US nuclear waste act or the enactment by Congress of an alternative waste management plan.

"Given that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act remains in effect, Congress should provide sufficient funds to the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to complete the licensing process for the Yucca Mountain repository"

Marvin Fertel,
NEI president and CEO

The 1982 US Nuclear Waste Policy Act committed the DoE to begin taking used fuel from nuclear utilities from 1998, for final disposal in a federal facility - namely the Yucca Mountain repository. To pay for this, it began the collection of a surcharge of one-tenth of a US cent per kilowatt-hour of nuclear electricity. The surcharge netted some $750 million per year, and the accumulated funds are estimated to currently stand at around $30 billion. State utility commissions have allowed utilities to pass on the fees to their electricity customers.

The Yucca Mountain project has been suspended since 2009. Nevertheless, the DoE continued to collect the fees from nuclear utilities prompting the legal action from NARUC and NEI. Both organisations welcomed the suspension of the fees, but emphasised that they would prefer the government to comply with the current Nuclear Waste Policy Act and complete the licensing process for the Yucca Mountain repository.

NARUC president Collette Honorable said the suspension meant that consumers would "get a break" while waiting for the government to "jumpstart" the stalled nuclear waste program. Meanwhile, NEI president and CEO Marvin Fertel expressed the shared frustration of the nuclear industry and the appellate court over the DoE's "many years of inaction" on developing a repository. Calling for policymakers to implement an "effective and efficient" nuclear waste management and disposal program, Fertel said that the industry also believed that a consolidated storage facility should be pursued while work is under way towards either licensing Yucca Mountain or siting a new disposal facility.

With no central repository available as promised by DoE under the 1982 act, utilities have been forced to take their own measures to store their used fuel on-site, with most sites investing in dry-cask storage to supplement the available space in their fuel storage pools. Numerous utilities have successfully sued the federal government for its failure to meet its obligations under the waste policy act.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News