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Tiny nuclear waste fee added up to billions

By Ralph Vartabedian

Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Published: Thursday, May 15 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

The Energy Department said Wednesday that it remains committed to finding a solution, but that it had to be done with broad public consensus. “When this administration took office, the timeline for opening Yucca Mountain had already been pushed back by two decades, stalled by public protest and legal opposition, with no end in sight,” the department said in a statement.

Silberg said the intent of the industry’s suit was to increase pressure on the administration to start acting.

In addition to the suit, the nation’s nuclear utilities have filed 90 lawsuits against the federal government, asserting that the failure to take ownership of the waste has increased their storage and operation costs. So far, they have won $1 billion in judgments and obtained settlements of $1.6 billion, Silberg said. The Energy Department has projected that it may be liable for up to $22 billion in additional judgments just through the start of the next decade and more liability would accumulate after that, Silberg said.

The problem with nuclear waste was addressed in the Waste Policy Act, a 1982 law that ordered two nuclear waste dumps to be built in the eastern and western U.S. But in 1987, Congress directed the Energy Department to build a dump at Yucca Mountain, a volcanic ridge inside the Nevada National Security Site, the former test range for detonating nuclear weapons. At the time, Nevada was among the politically weakest states, the test range was already radioactively contaminated and scientists claimed the repository’s geology would keep the waste isolated.

But the plan began to collapse when the state raised a long series of scientific objections to the site. When Democratic Sen. Harry Reid became the majority leader, he vowed to kill the project and he delivered on the pledge when Obama was elected. The president appointed a blue ribbon committee to study the next step. It delivered a report in 2012, suggesting that the disposal program be taken away from the Energy Department and an interim storage site be established before a permanent repository is built.

But legislation to carry out its recommendations was never passed by Congress.

©2014 Los Angeles Times. Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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