U.S. utility commissioners call for action on used nuke fuel

Two decades after the deadline passed for the U.S. government to start accepting nuclear waste for disposal, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) wants lawmakers to support funding for the review process for the Yucca Mountain repository license application.

The U.S. Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 established federal responsibility for all civilian-used nuclear fuel and mandated the government begin removing used fuel from nuclear facilities by 1998 for disposal in a federal facility.

Yucca Mountain, roughly 100 miles north of Las Vegas, Nev., in 1987 was designated as the sole site for the repository. The Department of Energy (DOE) in 2008 submitted a construction and operation license application for Yucca Mountain to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

However, the Obama administration aborted the project in 2009, Kallanish Energy reports.

In August 2013, a U.S. federal Appeals Court ordered the NRC to resume its review of DOE's application following an appeal brought by NARUC, two states and others who argued the NRC ignored its statutory responsibility in terminating the review.

NARUC said the government's failure to begin accepting used nuclear fuel has resulted in more than $5 billion in court-awarded damage settlements — at taxpayers' expense.

Damages could reach more than $29 billion by 2022, and up to $500 million annually after 2022, it said. It called on the Trump administration and Congress to take immediate action to support the review of the Yucca Mountain license application.

"It has been 36 years since the Nuclear Waste Policy Act became law, and 20 years since the government defaulted on its obligation. We still have no nuclear repository, and worse yet, we don’t even have the semblance of a nuclear waste program," NARUC president John Betkoski III said Wednesday.

"Taxpayers and ratepayers have poured literally billions into the federal nuclear waste program and the liability costs continue to increase every day we delay. Moreover, the funding process is broken."

The U.S. Congress in 1982 established a fund for waste management, into which nuclear utilities were required to pay $0.10 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to cover final disposal costs.

NARUC said additional appropriations from the Nuclear Waste Fund are needed now to support review of the Yucca Mountain license application. Executive director Greg White said access to funds was "effectively stymied" by the Congressional budgetary process.

"The Nuclear Waste Fund currently has a balance well in excess of $30 billion and continues to earn interest of more than $1 billion a year, yet any progress on the program is constrained by the Congressional failure to provide meaningful funding," White said.

The DOE in 2014 stopped collecting nuclear waste fees from utilities as a result of the 2013 appeals court ruling. NARUC wants Congress to "fix the funding process," and to ensure if ratepayer collections are ever restarted, "Congress cannot misdirect the collected fees to other unrelated projects."

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