Morning Briefing - March 27, 2019
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March 27, 2019

Federal Price Tag on Rad Waste Liability Hits $8 Billion

By ExchangeMonitor

The U.S. government since 2010 has spent $8 billion, now at a rate of $2 million per day, for failing to build a permanent repository to take spent fuel from nuclear power plants, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Tuesday.

While he did not discuss specifics of this cost during testimony on Capitol Hill, Perry almost certainly was referring to the aggregate of payments the federal government has made to nuclear utilities stuck with the radioactive waste for decades.

“We’ve got to find a permanent solution to this. Thirty-nine states as final repositories [for the waste] is not an appropriate solution,” Perry said in presenting the Energy Department’s fiscal 2020 budget plan before the House Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee.

In its $31.7 billion proposal for the budget year beginning Oct. 1, the Energy Department is seeking $116 million to resume licensing of the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada, and to promote interim storage of spent fuel. This is the Trump administration’s third try at funding licensing at DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Congress rejected requests for both fiscal 2018 and the current fiscal 2019.

“I remind the members, I remind the public, that this is the law,” Perry said.

The 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act gave the Energy Department until Jan. 31, 1998, to begin accepting spent fuel from commercial power reactors and high-level radioactive waste from defense nuclear operations for permanent disposal. Five years later, Congress directed that the waste be buried under Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

After spending nearly $20 billion to research, site, and develop the repository, it remains unlicensed and unbuilt. The Energy Department filed its license application with the NRC in 2008, but the Obama administration defunded the proceeding two years later. That is where things stand now.

Nuclear utilities paid tens of millions of dollars into the federal fund intended to pay for disposal, and to date have gotten nothing for their money. The $8 billion represents payouts to date from the federal judgment fund for claims filed by the utilities for DOE’s breach of the Standard Contract for disposal of used fuel and high-level waste.