Three Kansas utilities sue DOE over uncollected nuclear waste at Wolf Creek

Three utility companies operating the Wolf Creek nuclear plant in Kansas on May 28 sued the U.S. Department of Energy, asking for the agency to fulfill its promise to remove spent radioactive fuel from the facility.

Kansas Gas & Electric, Kansas City Power & Light and Kansas Electric Power Cooperative, which provide power to consumers in Missouri and Kansas, told the U.S. Court of Federal Claims that they have collectively paid the DOE $224 million to remove spent nuclear fuel from the Wolf Creek Generating Station in Coffey County. But the fuel waste continues to sit at the site after years of futile efforts by DOE to ready the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada as a permanent nuclear waste repository.

The plaintiffs noted that in 2004, they brought a suit against DOE over a claim of a partial breach of DOE’s duties in this area. A federal judge in 2010 ruled in part for the plaintiffs, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit later upholding part of that lower court ruling. Based on a Federal Circuit ruling in a case involving Indiana Michigan Power, the plaintiffs now bring this suit at the claims court to recover damages “as they occur,” which in this case covers the period June 2009 to March 2015.

The plaintiffs noted that DOE’s suspension of its Yucca Mountain permitting efforts, which some Republicans in Congress are trying to drag DOE back into, makes DOE disposal of this waste even more uncertain.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages to be determined at trial.

Said Kansas Gas & Electric parent Westar Energy about this situation in its May 5 Form 10-Q quarterly report: “In 2010, the DOE filed a motion with the NRC to withdraw its then pending application to construct a national repository for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. An NRC board denied the DOE’s motion to withdraw its application and the DOE appealed that decision to the full NRC. In 2011, the NRC issued an evenly split decision on the appeal and also ordered the licensing board to close out its work on the DOE’s application by the end of 2011 due to a lack of funding.

“These agency actions prompted the States of Washington and South Carolina, and a county in South Carolina, to file a lawsuit in a federal Court of Appeals asking the court to compel the NRC to resume its license review and to issue a decision on the license application. In August 2013, the court ordered the NRC to resume its review of the DOE’s application. The NRC has not yet issued its decision. Wolf Creek has an on-site storage facility designed to hold all spent fuel generated at the plant through 2025 and believes it will be able to expand on-site storage as needed past 2025. We cannot predict when, or if, an alternative disposal site will be available to receive Wolf Creek’s spent nuclear fuel and will continue to monitor this activity.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.