WASHINGTON—The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) today called on Congress to reclassify the federal Nuclear Waste Fund so that consumer revenues to the fund each year are used for the intended purpose of developing the underground nuclear waste repository planned for Yucca Mountain, Nev.
Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality, NEI Executive Vice President Angie Howard called for “certainty” in Yucca Mountain-related funding by reclassifying the Nuclear Waste Fund as a separate account in the federal treasury, just as it was originally established in 1982.
“Congress created the Nuclear Waste Fund based on the premise that electricity consumers who benefit from nuclear energy should pay for the used nuclear fuel disposal program. To effectively implement Congress’ intent, funds from the Nuclear Waste Fund should be available when justified and not conditioned on annual budget constraints,” Howard said.
Howard emphasized that the legislation is needed to assure increases in funding requirements for repository licensing and construction in the near term. Funding requirements topping $1 billion beginning in fiscal year 2006 must be approved by Congress from the Nuclear Waste Fund so that the Department of Energy (DOE) may meet repository program milestones, including operation of the repository beginning in 2010.
Congress approved Yucca Mountain in 2002 as a disposal site for used nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear plants and high-level radioactive waste from U.S. defense programs. The Nuclear Waste Fund increases by about $750 million per year – consumers of nuclear-generated electricity pay one-10th of a cent per kilowatt-hour of electricity used – but Congress for years has appropriated only a fraction of that amount annually.
“Not having these funds fully dedicated to the disposal program constitutes a taking from the American people,” Howard said.
“Over the past 11 years, appropriations have been reduced by $723 million from DOE’s annual budget requests. The balance in the Nuclear Waste Fund is nearly $15 billion, and it must be available to the program if needed, with the appropriate congressional oversight.”
Department of Energy Undersecretary Robert Card testified that swift enactment of the Bush Administration’s legislative proposal (H.R. 3981) to reclassify the Nuclear Waste Fund “would help rectify a longstanding inequity imposed on all of the tens of millions of households who use nuclear-generated electricity … As far the millions of ratepayers are concerned, the fee appears to be just one more federal tax instead of the payment to ensure the delivery of a service that it was intended to be.”
One of the key milestones for the repository is the need to develop a comprehensive transportation program to transfer used fuel to the repository. Last December, DOE announced a National Transportation Strategic Plan based on interactions with state, local and Indian tribe governments. The plan endorses a rail-based transportation strategy, which is supported by the nuclear energy industry.
“Ensuring adequate funding is critical to success of the transportation plan that calls for construction of a rail line in Nevada immediately after a decision is reached on construction authorization for the repository in 2008. Making rail transportation available for used fuel shipments sooner rather than later in the program will minimize the need for truck shipments,” Howard said.
Howard also noted that any further delay in the repository program would have negative financial implications on the overall cost of the program, possibly adding nearly $1 billion a year for each year of delay. In addition, given that the federal government is more than six years overdue in fulfilling its obligation to take possession of used reactor fuel, more than 60 lawsuits have been filed by electric companies against the federal government for breach of contract. Damages from those lawsuits could exceed $50 billion.
“Developing a new funding process for the Yucca Mountain project is essential to completing one of the world’s most important environmental facilities and will enable the U.S. government to begin fulfilling its legal obligation to move used nuclear fuel from 40 states to a secure underground federal repository,” Howard concluded.
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.