Remember in early 2010 when President Obama ordered that all construction on the proposed nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain be halted? Since then we have heard little about the topic. However, on July 29, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, formed by President Obama last year, issued its draft report, and it is not good news.
Almost 30 years ago, Uncle Sam entered into a contract with utilities to dispose of their nuclear waste beginning in 1998. That disposal was supposed to happen at Yucca Mountain. Under the law, all nuclear facilities were required to pay an annual fee to the nuclear waste trust fund to cover the cost of Yucca Mountain.
The fee, which ultimately comes from nuclear-electricity customers as a surcharge of 1/10th of a cent per kilowatt hour, now amounts to about $750 million a year. Counting past expenditures and interest earned, the fund’s balance is about $25 billion.
When the federal government missed the 1998 deadline, utilities sued the government to recover their costs incurred in storing the waste. So far, according to federal officials, it will cost the government some $16.2 billion to pay the legal judgments entered against the government…assuming there will be a completed federal disposal site by 2020.
There is a small problem, though…the $25 billion fund does not exist. All of the fees collected in excess of the costs of building the Yucca Mountain facility, instead of being placed in a trust fund, were simply spent by the government as quickly as they were received. As a result,
[a] group of state regulators and the Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade organization, are suing the Department of Energy, seeking to suspend collection of the annual fees utilities pay into the waste fund. ‘There’s no sense paying a fee if you are not getting a program for it’ said NEI’s Steven Kraft.
Additionally, the President’s panel is recommending that the annual fees sent to the government be reduced to cover solely the costs of the program (whatever that program may now be), with the remainder being held by the utilities in their own trust fund.
Bottom line…even President Obama’s own panel doesn’t trust the federal government to do what it promises.