28 March 2010 at 9:14:08 PM
Saw a pretty astonishing article yesterday about how the Bush administration inked some deals to provide a repository for nuclear waste, or pay out penalties to some 21 nuclear power plants.
Late in the George W. Bush Administration, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) signed
contracts to accept irradiated nuclear fuel1 from 21 new commercial atomic reactors.2 It did so
even though at that time, no repository for new sources of irradiated fuel existed or was planned.
It also did so even though the U.S. government had already paid out $565 million in contract
damages – and faced an additional $790 million of contract damages at that very same time – for
its failure to dispose of the existing inventory of irradiated fuel in the United States. And it did so
even though it already expected to face around an additional billion dollars of damage payments
to nuclear power utilities each and every year for the next decade.
The closest the U.S. has come to licensing a high-level radioactive waste repository has been at
Yucca Mountain, Nevada, which was abandoned after 28 years of study, and 35 years after the
U.S. began to search for a repository site. If these 21 pending applications for new reactor
licenses are granted, the U.S. government must find disposal capacity for around 21,000 metric
tons of irradiated fuel that would be generated at these new reactors. This entire inventory of
high-level radioactive waste would have been excess to Yucca’s legal capacity limit for
acceptance, at least until a second repository was operational elsewhere, even if the nowcancelled
Yucca Mountain repository had been licensed. If, as it seems reasonable to assume,
the siting of two new repositories now will take 60 years or more to accomplish, the DOE will
default on the irradiated fuel disposal contracts signed in 2008-2009, and taxpayers will owe
nuclear reactor licensees billions of dollars in contract damages.
Comanche Peak is included in that list of contracts which came to light via FOIA requests.
So what difference does this make? Because DOE is in default on those contracts and some of the nuclear power plant energy companies have filed suit.
Between 1983 and 1987, DOE signed radioactive waste disposal contracts with over 100 operating commercial atomic reactors in the U.S. DOE was contractually obliged to begin accepting waste from utilities on Jan. 31, 1998. When this deadline was missed, the first of a current total of 71 lawsuits were filed by nuclear utilities against DOE for breach of contract, seeking damages to compensate them for on-site storage costs. As of July 2009, $565 million in damages had been awarded, and paid, to five nuclear utilities pursuant to settlements, and one trial court judgment that was not appealed. The funding for these damage awards is ultimately coming out of the U.S. Treasury because the courts have ruled that the Nuclear Waste Fund (estimated to have $23.8 billion remaining at the end of Fiscal Year 2009) cannot be used to pay liability to nuclear utility waste contract holders.
DOE has estimated that by 2020, taxpayer liability for breach of contract damages will amount to $12.3 billion -- thus, around a billion dollars of damage payments to nuclear power utilities each and every year for the next decade. DOE has not yet estimated liabilities beyond 2020. The nuclear industry itself estimates damages will top $50 billion of taxpayer money. Neither of these estimates reflects the impact of the 21 proposed reactor projects covered under the Bush Administration agreements with major utilities.
The new contracts signed in the waning days of the Bush Administration will add significantly to future liability. In addition to damages, the Department of Justice has, thus far, expended another $154 million of taxpayer money trying to defend DOE against breach of contract charges and damage awards. This "endless litigation," at taxpayer expense, is expected to continue indefinitely for decades to come, unless Congress intervenes by changing the applicable laws.
Also called spent or used nuclear fuel, irradiated nuclear fuel is the high-level or highly radioactive waste which results when "fresh" nuclear fuel rods become a million times more radioactive after undergoing fissioning in atomic reactor cores.
I wonder if Luminant is one of those that has filed a lawsuit? At least a couple of the contracts have to do with Comanche Peak Unit 3 or 4, which are not even approved to be built.
You remember when Chet Edwards said that on-site storage wasn't good because it could create a terrorist issue? Well, here's also a taxpayer issue. Seems to me that nuclear power is, regardless of any other factor, hugely expensive and continues to put taxpayers on the hook for the risk.
nuclear power plant
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