WASHINGTON—The nuclear energy industry has fulfilled its statutory obligation by contributing more than $2.6 billion to the federal fund established to decommission uranium enrichment facilities in three states and should not be subject to further assessments if Congress reauthorizes the fund, an industry leader told the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today.
The Uranium Enrichment Decontamination and Decommissioning (D&D) Fund was established to finance the dismantling and environmental cleanup of facilities that the government built decades ago in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee to enrich uranium for post-World War II defense programs. Commercial nuclear power plants subsequently entered into agreements with the government to buy enrichment services for uranium fuel used to generate electricity. The Kentucky plant still operates.
Under the Energy Policy Act of 1992, the nuclear industry was required to contribute $2.25 billion, adjusted for inflation, over 15 years to the decommissioning fund, with other monies to come from the federal government. This levy was put in place even though the contracts governing the purchase of enrichment services prior to 1992 were required by law to include all costs, which included appropriate D&D costs. While the government has not provided its full share, the nuclear energy industry met its obligation under the 1992 statute.
U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has introduced legislation, S.2203, to reauthorize the fund. Its provisions would require the nuclear energy industry to pay an additional $150 million, adjusted for inflation, annually for 10 years.
“The industry is fully supportive of Congress taking appropriate action to assure that adequate funding is available for the D&D fund so that the decontamination and decommissioning of the gaseous diffusion plants is accomplished in a safe, environmentally responsible and economically efficient manner,” said Marvin Fertel, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer. “The communities that host these facilities should expect nothing less.”
Given that the nuclear energy industry already has fulfilled its obligations under the law, “it is now incumbent upon the federal government to make good on its contributions that have been in arrears since 1992,” he said.
Fertel noted that the facilities were contaminated due to their use for defense programs about 15 years before enrichment services were made available to the private sector. He also urged that money in the fund be designated solely for D&D efforts and not be used to address current operational issues.
Fertel said an appropriate D&D revenue source for the Department of Energy, beyond federal appropriations, is the sale of surplus nuclear fuel and the sale of re-enriched existing uranium tails. He indicated that such material would have to be sold into the market in a responsible way so as not to inhibit the development of new mines, fuel conversion and enrichment facilities in the United States. He also advocated that DOE be granted receipt authority from the sale of such material.
“Pursuing this activity over the longer term would both address the issue of disposing of the existing tails of depleted uranium, by turning them into an asset, and would also allow the government to sell them into a market in a responsible way,” Fertel said.