The U.S. Energy Department must justify the $750 million it collects annually from the atomic power industry for waste disposal given that it no longer plans to develop a depository at Yucca Mountain.
A three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington today said the department’s 2010 fee determination was “legally defective” and ruled it has six months to evaluate whether collection of the fee will provide too much or too little revenue to offset costs of the nuclear-waste disposal program.
“Long before the Yucca Mountain program was chosen, the secretary, as we have noted, ran rather sophisticated evaluations of the potential costs of a hypothetical repository as part of his policy of conducting a ‘thorough analysis,” the court said in its ruling. “His 2010 determination falls far below the department’s own previous standard.”
Nuclear power plant owners sued the department to suspend the fees until a new disposal program is begins.
President Barack Obama two years ago ended funding for Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas, leaving the U.S. without a plan for a permanent waste repository.
The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, an association of utility regulators, called the decision “an important victory for nuclear-power consumers.”
David Wright, the president of the group, said in a statement that the court made clear the Energy Department hasn’t justified continued payments into the Nuclear Waste Fund.
“Although the court did not suspend these payments, the Energy Department is on notice that they must do a thorough and complete assessment within six months,” he said.
Nuclear-power utilities and their consumers have paid more than $30 billion into the fund, Wright said.
“To date they have nothing to show for their investment except political delays, bureaucratic red tape, and a hole in the Nevada desert,” he said.
The Energy Department still considers its decision to keep the fee in place a requirement of the law, according to Jen Stutsman, an agency spokeswoman.
“Nevertheless, the department is prepared to conduct an evaluation of the adequacy of the Nuclear Waste Fund fee that complies with the D.C. Circuit’s decision and with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act,” Stutsman said in an e-mail.
The case is National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners v. U.S. Department of Energy, 11-1066, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (Washington).
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