NARUC seeks support for Nuclear Waste Act provisions

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) has endorsed a congressional bill to enact into law certain provisions of the report by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu appointed the commission in early 2010 after the Obama administration elected not to move forward with the Yucca Mountain waste facility in Nevada. The Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) delivered its final report in January 2012.

NARUC President David Wright, who is also Vice Chairman of the South Carolina Public Service Commission, outlined the request in a Sept. 10 letter to Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. Bingaman is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources. Murkowski is the ranking Republican member.

NARUC has been active in federal appeals court litigation on nuclear waste storage issues on behalf of states and ratepayers who have paid for, but not yet received, government storage of spent nuclear fuel.

The Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2012, S. 3469, would implement a Blue Ribbon Commission recommendation that responsibility for nuclear waste storage be moved out of the Department of Energy (DOE) and into a new quasi-governmental organization.

 “You will not be surprised that our primary interest is on fixing the Nuclear Waste Fund (NWF),” Wright said in the letter. The BRC said it believed that “the success of a revitalized waste management program will depend on making the revenues by the nuclear waste fee and the balance in the NWF available when needed and in the amounts needed to implement the program.”

Near term, within existing authority, NARUC wants to see that existing contracts are modified so that the total fees paid by utilities would match the amount appropriated by the fund in the same year. The balance would be placed in irrevocable trust accounts (escrow) for future payments. The fee revenue would be reclassified as offsetting receipts, subject to concurrence by the Congressional Budget Office and the Budget Committees, NARUC said.

As far as congressional action, the Blue Ribbon Commission recommended budget autonomy for the new nuclear waste management organization. Specifically, the BRC recommended the legislation include a “defined schedule of payments to transfer the balance of the Fund (the corpus) to the new organization over a reasonable future time period starting 10 years after the organization is established,” NARUC said.

NARUC said it was disappointed that the administration had failed to move ahead on the near-term action.

While it likes the idea of a nuclear waste agency, it is still concerned about how the program will be managed before legislation is enacted and how transition to the NWA is implemented. For the past two years, about $770 million in fees have been paid into the Nuclear Waste Fund annually and no money was appropriated for waste disposal, NARUC said in the letter.

“It appears, however, that the money was spent for other purposes and more “IOU’s” were added to the Fund. We are anxious to see if FY 2014 is any different,” NARUC said in the letter.

NARUC said that it favors the shift to a more co-equal “consent-based” approach to nuclear waste facilities. NARUC also expressed hope that the government will pursue a consolidated interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel from the decommissioned reactor storage sites.

NARUC said it will continue to work with DOE until a new organization is up and running.

 

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.