As you may have heard, DOE is attempting to withdraw the license application for the Yucca Mountain used nuclear fuel repository from consideration by the NRC. This was a decision that remains controversial and may get a further hearing in the next Congress. Regardless, Yucca Mountain continues its retirement.
Yet it is still being paid for via the Nuclear Waste Fund, described as:
[A] 1 mill (one-tenth of a cent) fee for every kWh of nuclear-generated electricity sold. Congress established the fee and Nuclear Waste Fund, a federal trust, in 1982 to bankroll the DOE repository program.
That may not sound like a lot, but it comes to about $750 million per year and has contributed to a fund that now stands at $25 billion. While one could say that the utilities are paying this. it is actually ratepayers that are doing so.
The Nuclear Waste Act of 1982 set Yucca Mountain as the used fuel repository (through an amendment in 1987) and set the initial fee for the Nuclear Waste Fund. If there is no repository, though:
Ellen C. Ginsberg, general counsel for the Nuclear Energy Institute, said there was therefore no longer a basis for collecting the fee. The federal energy secretary makes annual estimates called “fee adequacy reports,” based on the cost to build, operate and close up the repository, but there is now no repository to base a cost estimate on, she said.
That’s true. So, at least until a new program is put into place and a cost determined for it, should there be any fee at all? NEI and NARUC (the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners) said in a suit filed against DOE that there should not be. It’s an arguable point, certainly, but it isn’t going to be argued, at least not yet:
A federal appeals court Monday closed one door in a legal battle over the US Department of Energy's continued collection of the nuclear waste fee, but opened another for possible legal action by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and Nuclear Energy Institute.
The judge did dismiss the suit, but not on its merits. Instead, it dismissed it because DOE issued a fee adequacy report, which is necessary to determine the fee. That’s important, as no report had taken into account the termination of the Yucca Mountain project, and the suit requested that DOE do so. So the suit became moot on the procedural detail - the report - but undecided on the more substantive issue - the fee.
NARUC and NEI have 180 days from the issuance of the DOE report (November 1) to file a new lawsuit. So, for another five months or so, this enters wait and see territory.
At first, it sounds like a story about unnecessary jitters regarding nuclear energy:
Plans by Belarus to build a nuclear power plant 50 kilometers away from Vilnius are a worry for Lithuania, the country's foreign minister, Audronius Ažubalis, told EurActiv in an exclusive interview.
A worry? That makes it sound as though Belarus is erecting a rusty tub and a few fuel rods. But no:
An official website says that Belarus is now in talks with corporations from France, Japan and South Korea, while maintaining its partnership with the Russian Federation.
And Lithuania has no actual problem with Belarus pursuing nuclear energy:
The minister said Lithuania was not against its neighbor developing nuclear energy - indeed, Vilnius is also planning to replace its Ignalina power plant, which was closed in 2009 after EU pressure.
So what’s the problem? Procedure:
"Any country would [voice concerns] if it were unable to find the proper answers to its concerns according to the Espoo Convention [the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context] and according to IAEA requirements," Ažubalis said.
Oh, okay. Well, Ažubalis is the Foreign Minister – maybe he should pick up the phone. Belarus might well answer.
The Belarus National Library.