The US Federal Court of Claims has awarded three New England-based utilities substantial damages to compensate for the additional costs of building dry spent nuclear fuel storage facilities.

The damages claims result from the failure of the Department of Energy to remove the used fuel, after the government breached contracts it entered into with each company in 1983 under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. Under the Act, the DoE was to begin removing spent nuclear fuel from the Yankee Rowe, Maine Yankee and Connecticut Yankee nuclear plants no later than 31 January, 1998 in return for payments by each company into the Nuclear Waste Fund.

The trial to determine the damages began in July 2004.

The court decision found that the owners of the plants – Yankee Atomic Electric Co, Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Co, and Maine Yankee Atomic Power Co – would not have had to build the facilities had the DoE not breached its contracts. The three nuclear power plants have already been decommissioned.

The ruling, issued late September awarded a total of $142.8 million in claims against the federal government, short of the $176.5 million in damages sought for all three Yankee plants. However, as the ruling only covers 1998-02 further damages claims are expected until the DoE fulfils its obligations.

The government is expected to appeal.

Two years ago Exelon reached a deal with the Department of Justice to recover an estimated $600 million by 2015 for delays in removing used fuel from its reactors.