The US state of Nebraska has settled a long-running legal dispute with its former partners in the Central Interstate Low-Level Radioactive Waste Compact over the state’s failure to develop a low-level waste disposal facility for the group.
The settlement calls for Nebraska to pay the compact commission $140 million and help the four remaining member states (Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma) work out an agreement that would allow them to send waste to a planned or existing disposal site outside of Nebraska.
Nebraska can either make a single payment by August 2005, or make four annual payments, with interest, beginning 1 August 2005. Nebraska governor Mike Johanns prefers a single payment but must present the proposed settlement to state legislature in January 2005 for review and possible revision.
The legal battle began in 1998, when Nebraska refused to license the facility after a multimillion dollar site characterisation and design effort. In December 1998, the compact sued Nebraska in the US District Court, charging that former governor, Ben Nelson (now a US senator), acted in bad faith. In 2002, the court ruled in the compact’s favor and awarded $151.4 million in damages. The state appealed to the US Circuit Court of Appeals, but lost and was ordered to pay damages that, with interest, had increased to more than $156 million.
After the settlement, Johanns said he was “very pleased to bring this lawsuit to a resolution that could save Nebraska anywhere from $26 million to $77 million” when compared to the potential cost of further appeals which could have forced the state to license a disposal site that would not even accept Nebraskan waste.
As part of the settlement, the compact commission agreed that it would not pursue efforts to site a regional low-level waste disposal facility in Nebraska, unless the state falls behind in its payments. Although Nebraska’s compact membership was revoked in July 2004, the compact commission, representing the remaining states, had discussed the possibility of seeking a court order to compel Nebraska to build and operate a disposal facility for the compact – even though there is a legal question whether Nebraska itself could use the site, since it was no longer a member, Kansas commissioner James O’Connell told NEI.
At the same time they were negotiating their settlement, Nebraska and the commission were seeking long-term outside disposal options. Johanns has held talks with Texas governor Rick Perry to discuss a proposal to give Nebraska and the compact access to a commercial disposal site for the Texas Compact proposed to be built in west Texas.
Nebraska and the compact offered to pay Texas a one-time access fee of $25 million and a $5 million contribution into the Texas perpetual care fund at the time Texas licenses its site in return for access to the facility throughout its expected 30-year operational life.
If the Texas deal goes through, Nebraska’s financial obligation to its former partners would be reduced to $130 million, and the money paid to Texas would come from the money Nebraska pays to the compact.
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