In the latest sparring over the stalled US waste management programme, a coalition of 24 states asked US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson on 9 September to suspend collection of $6.5 billion in Nuclear Waste Fund fees. The states asked Richardson to limit payment of the nuclear waste fund fees for any given year to each utility’s share of those funds appropriated by Congress. This would prevent the fee payments from being used for other purposes, they said.

“By keeping payments out of the US Treasury, we stop Congress from spending the unappropriated portion on other things. This would preserve the equivalent of $90 million of waste-disposal funding for each of the 73 power plants from which nuclear waste must be removed,” said Kris Sanda, a member of the Minnesota Public Service Commission.

Since enactment of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1983, ratepayers of US utilities have been paying a fee of 0.1 cents/kWh on nuclear-generated electricity for disposal of spent fuel. More than $15 billion has been collected, but DOE has spent only about $5 billion toward building an underground repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Meanwhile, the spent fuel remains stored at 73 dispersed US sites.

“Payment of the unappropriated portion of the fee (now 84 cents on the dollar) would be deferred until the DOE fulfils its obligation to remove nuclear waste from electric power plants,” Sanda said.

The states say the US Treasury has lumped fees collected for the Nuclear Waste Fund in the federal government’s general fund, allowing Congress to spend it on other programmes.

DOE has offered to defer collection of the Nuclear Waste Fund fees, but only if utilities agree not to seek damages stemming from the federal government’s delay in disposing of spent fuel. The states say they want to preserve the right to take court action in the future.

In July, a group of 36 states petitioned the US Supreme Court to mandate that DOE, which has been found legally and contractually liable for the waste, to ship it to a permanent storage facility. The US Supreme Court has not acted yet on that petition.