Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Waste of a Good Nuclear Waste Act

435_BelarusNationalLibrary 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.

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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.

8 comments:

Marcel F. Williams said...

The Federal government is getting paid more than $700 million dollars a year to take spent fuel off the hands of the commercial nuclear power industry-- a resource combined with depleted uranium that's probably worth over $100 trillion dollars in clean energy in next generation fast and breeder reactors.

The Federal government is in possession of the ultimate energy gold mine. And they don't even know it!

Joffan said...

How about we get to hear what the actual status of the Yucca Mountain application is? The NRC have voted on the ASLB decision that the application cannot be withdrawn, but for some strange reason they are being allowed to keep the result of the vote secret.

I think it's obvious that the NRC vote supported the ASLB, or we would have heard by now. So can the NRC please get on with their job and issue at least the report that they have ready?

Joffan said...

Perhaps a FOIA request is the next step on moving the NRC forward.

Anonymous said...

The Commission vote is moot now that the courts have decided that the NRC had been given ample time to weigh in. The only drama will be which side of the court room the agency's lawyers will sit on.

Brian Mays said...

I propose that, henceforth, the NWF be paid from the Fund to Re-elect Harry Reid to the Senate.

There's little doubt that Harry's got the money for it.

Considering the number of lawsuits that have resulted from the DOE's decision to withdraw the Yucca Mountain license application, I'd say that Reid's donations from "Lawyers/Law Firms" (his largest source of funding, by far) have not gone to waste.

donb said...

Marcel F Williams wrote:
The Federal government is getting paid more than $700 million dollars a year to take spent fuel off the hands of the commercial nuclear power industry-- a resource combined with depleted uranium that's probably worth over $100 trillion dollars in clean energy in next generation fast and breeder reactors.

The Federal government is in possession of the ultimate energy gold mine. And they don't even know it!


While the spent fuel is an energy goldmine, it becomes that only if there are reactors built that can use it. That is hardly happening now, at least in the United States. It seems like the Federal Government has no interest in seeing it happen. The NRC is certainly in no hurry to license such a reactor.

In the mean time, the ratepayers are sending $750 million per year to the Federal Government so that they can produce, what?, a report! Nice job if you can get it, and you can get it if your name is the Department of Energy.

I would much rather see that money going towards the development of reactors (breeders) that can use spent fuel (and depleted uranium from enrichment plants) as their energy source. Save Yucca Mountain for fission products from these reactors that our decendents serveal centuries from now can then mine as a source of rare-earth minerals.

Marcel F. Williams said...

@donb


"I would much rather see that money going towards the development of reactors (breeders) that can use spent fuel (and depleted uranium from enrichment plants) as their energy source. Save Yucca Mountain for fission products from these reactors that our decendents serveal centuries from now can then mine as a source of rare-earth minerals."


I agree with you!

However, I would use a couple of hundred million a year to build temporary (up to 200 years) Federal storage facilities within states that produce spent fuel-- in order to avoid suits from private utilities who are paying into the nuclear waste depository fund. This would also create jobs in every state that that produces spent fuel.

$500 million a year should be enough additional funds for various US companies and investors that want to develop various types of breeder technologies (heavy water thorium breeders, fast reactors, Traveling Wave reactors, accelerator breeder reactors, etc.)

There's no reason, IMO, why full scale demonstrations of these various technologies could not be ready in about 10 to 15 years followed by the commercialization and sale of these breeder technologies 5 to 10 years later.

Anonymous said...

I know I keep saying it, but I can't get past the fact that there is now a law on the books, the NWPA, that says that the DOE must develop and operate a national repository for used nuclear fuel, and Yucca Mountain is it. The DOE was authorized to collect a fee from users of electricity generated by nuclear means to pay for the repository. The fact that the Yucca Mountain repository is not being developed means that federal law is being violated. That should mean that someone, somewhere, should face legal sanction for this failure to follow the law. Second, people are being made to pay money specifically designated for a certain activity, and while that money is being collected, the work it is supposed to go towards is not being done. So we are paying for something that we are not getting. In any other circumstances, this would be considered, at best, fraud, and at worst, theft. Again, sanctions, both civil and perhaps criminal, should be imposed. It is things like this that make people (more) cynical and lose (even more) faith in our system of government.