WASHINGTON—The U.S. Congress last year approved Yucca Mountain, Nev., as a suitable site for development of an underground disposal facility for used nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear power plants and high-level radioactive waste from U.S. defense programs. However, changes are needed to the program funding system to ensure sufficient funding in the years ahead. Following is a statement made by Angie Howard, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s executive vice president, at a news conference held this morning by the Nuclear Waste Strategy Coalition and allied organizations to advocate reform of the Nuclear Waste Fund appropriations process.
“The nuclear energy industry strongly supports reform of the congressional appropriations process that has witnessed the continued shortchanging of the Yucca Mountain repository program. Notwithstanding the solid science that’s been done, this program has been plagued by interminable delays and funding shortfalls that have left the federal government open to lawsuits with possible damages in excess of $50 billion for its failure to meet its statutory and contractual obligations.
“Consumers of nuclear-generated electricity pay nearly $775 million a year into the Nuclear Waste Fund to finance the repository program, while interest on the fund is accruing at about $400 million annually. But Congress, despite its overwhelming philosophical support for this program, historically has appropriated an average of less than one-fourth of the fees paid by consumers for the program over the past five years.
“The Nuclear Waste Fund is self-financed by electricity customers, and the receipts are specifically intended for the used nuclear fuel disposal program. The Department of Energy should have access to the balance of the fund as it demonstrates the need for increased funding. It should not be subject to a yearly appropriations struggle. Reclassifying the Nuclear Waste Fund would stop the elaborate funding shell game that has resulted in the fund being manipulated away from its original intent. The solution is quite simple.
“Congress should reclassify the Nuclear Waste Fund back as it was originally established in 1982 as a separate account in the federal treasury—meaning its revenues and expenditures would be used for the intended purpose of developing the repository, not to allow for increased spending in other federal programs.
“Congress would still have oversight of the Yucca Mountain program and, indeed, the overwhelming majority of federal legislators and state officials simply want the federal government to fulfill the vision of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act agreed to in 1982. The utilities and consumers have paid, and continue to pay, for the removal of used nuclear fuel despite a federal court ruling that the government is in breach of its contract.
“This nation needs a diverse energy supply and it isn’t just financial equity that is at stake here. Effective nuclear waste management empowers our nation to maximize the benefits from nuclear energy, which supplies electricity to one of every five U.S. homes and businesses. Failure to make maximum use of nuclear energy translates into higher costs for electricity users, higher levels of air pollution and even possible shortages of electricity.”
The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear energy are available on NEI’s Internet site at http://www.nei.org.