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Tiny nuclear waste fee added up to billions via The Los Angeles Times

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“It is irresponsible on the government’s part to not move forward on a program that has already been paid for,” said Marvin Fertel, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington trade group that filed a suit against the fees.

The waste fee is one-quarter of a penny on each kilowatt hour of electricity, a tiny amount on any individual consumer’s monthly bill. But over the decades, the fractions of pennies added up to about $43 billion. About $12 billion of that money was spent on trying to develop the Yucca Mountain dump in Nevada, before the Obama administration essentially killed it.

Now, there is virtually no plan moving forward in Washington to build a dump or even a temporary central storage site. The $31-billion trust fund will continue to accrue interest and is available to help build a dump at some point, though it is probably not enough. Experts had estimated that the Yucca Mountain project would cost at least $100 billion.

“I don’t see how it is a terrific win for anybody,” said Marta Adams, the chief deputy attorney general in Nevada who led the state’s legal efforts to block Yucca Mountain. “It relieves consumers of this charge but it doesn’t get rid of the waste.”

Nevada officials believe the nuclear industry’s lawsuit was a subterfuge to force the Obama administration to restart licensing for Yucca Mountain, although Fertel and others argue that they just want the government to act on its legal obligations and begin a realistic effort to build a repository that can handle the mounting waste.

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The problem with nuclear waste was addressed in the Waste Policy Act, a 1982 law that ordered two nuclear waste dumps to be built in the eastern and western U.S. But in 1987, Congress directed the Energy Department to build a dump at Yucca Mountain, a volcanic ridge inside the Nevada National Security Site, the former test range for detonating nuclear weapons. At the time, Nevada was among the politically weakest states, the test range was already radioactively contaminated and scientists claimed the repository’s geology would keep the waste isolated.

But the plan began to collapse when the state raised a long series of scientific objections to the site. When Democrat Harry Reid became the Senate majority leader, he vowed to kill the project and he delivered on the pledge when Obama was elected. The president appointed a blue ribbon committee to study the next step. It delivered a report in 2012, suggesting that the disposal program be taken away from the Energy Department and an interim storage site be established before a permanent repository is built.

But legislation to carry out its recommendations was never passed by Congress.

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