DOE finds no need to modify nuclear waste fee

Due to lingering uncertainty about a long-term storage facility for waste from nuclear power plants, the Department of Energy (DOE) says it would be premature to tinker with the fee paid by operators of these plants.  

In keeping with a June 2012 federal appeals court decision, DOE has issued an updated assessment of the adequacy of the Nuclear Waste Fee.

“The results of the Assessment do not demonstrate that either insufficient or excess revenues are being collected to ensure full cost recovery,” DOE said in the assessment issued Jan. 18.

Given DOE’s failure to develop a national waste storage site at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, or elsewhere, the nuclear industry and many states have advocated a suspension of the fee. During the first Obama administration, DOE decided that Yucca Mountain would not be a workable option.

“At first blush, we find it difficult to understand how the department can justify charging nuclear utilities and their consumers for a program they effectively concede does not exist,” a National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) spokesperson said Jan. 18.

Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, nuclear power utilities pay the fee for the permanent disposal of their spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste. The fee is one mill ($0.001) per kilowatt-hour (kWh) levied on electricity generated and sold.

To date, DOE has never proposed to modify the fee.

“To evaluate the adequacy of the one mill per kWh fee, 42 scenarios were created and tested,” according to the DOE report. “The results of this Assessment demonstrate that there is currently no compelling evidence that either insufficient or excess revenues are being collected to ensure the recovery of costs by the federal government,” DOE said.

Results of the scenarios exhibit significant variation, ranging from a negative ending balance of $2 trillion to a positive ending balance of $4.9 trillion, DOE said.

DOE notes that the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future issued its final report in early 2012. After reviewing that report, in January 2013 the Obama administration issued its Strategy for the Management and Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste.

That strategy urges licensing a “consent-based” storage site with a willing host community.

The DOE analysis of the waste fee adequacy was introduced as evidence Jan. 18 in litigation brought by NARUC against DOE in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Case Nos. 11-1066 and 11-1068).

 

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.