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Cattle grazed last year near the Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant in Herald, Calif.

Rich Pedroncelli • AP,

Nuke dump fee ends, cutting electric bills

  • Article by: Ralph Vartabedian
  • Los Angeles Times
  • May 15, 2014 - 6:07 PM

– A charge for electricity that millions of Americans didn’t even know they pay will suddenly disappear Friday, after the Energy Department this week quietly notified utilities across the country that it was suspending its fees for a future nuclear waste dump.

The Energy Department has been collecting $750 million from electricity bills every year for such a dump since 1983, putting it into a trust fund that now contains $31 billion.

The court-ordered suspension may be a modest victory for consumers, but it reflects the government’s failure over the last 40 years to get rid of what is now nearly 70,000 metric tons of highly radioactive spent fuel, accumulating at 100 nuclear reactors.

“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 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 in the future. Experts 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 assistant 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 said that they just want the government to act on its obligations and begin a realistic effort to build a repository.

© 2014 Star Tribune