A US court of appeals has ruled that the US Department of Energy should suspend the collection of fees for disposal of nuclear waste until it comes up with an alternative to Yucca Mountain.

DOE collects the one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour surcharge to pay for used nuclear fuel management. This amounts to around $750 million a year.

American utilities and regulators – through the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) – filed a lawsuit in March 2011 against the DOE for continuing to charge for the halted Yucca Mountain project

NEI and NARUC asserted that DOE’s termination of the Yucca Mountain repository programme prevented DOE from determining whether an appropriate fee was being collected because there is no programme to be evaluated.

In a unanimous decision, US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit has ordered the energy secretary to, "submit to Congress a proposal to change the [nuclear waste] fee to zero until such time as either the Secretary chooses to comply with the [Nuclear Waste Policy] Act as it is currently written, or until Congress enacts an alternative waste management plan."

The news was welcomed by the US nuclear industry, which also encouraged the US government to reform the country’s waste disposal programme.

"While we wholeheartedly believed that NARUC and fellow petitioners made a solid case for immediately suspending the nuclear waste fee on behalf of the nation’s electric consumers, we are thrilled that the D.C. Circuit Court recognized the injustice and acted to stop it," said NWSC Chairman and Minnesota Public Utilities Commissioner David Boyd.

Nuclear Energy Institute General Counsel Ellen Ginsberg said: "We strongly encourage Congress to establish a new waste management entity, and endow it with the powers and funding necessary to achieve the goals originally established in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act."

The Nuclear Waste Fund currently stands at over $31 billion. The US government was supposed to use the funds to create a permanent nuclear waste disposal site by 1998.


Photo: Yucca mountain (Source: DOE)