WASHINGTON—The federal government could face up to $35 billion in legal damages and nuclear power plants could begin to close prematurely unless Congress passes comprehensive legislation to reform the federal nuclear waste management policy, a top utility executive told a U.S. Senate committee today.
"The Energy Department has missed its 1998 deadline to begin moving used fuel from more than 100 nuclear power plant and defense-related sites, and there has been no real attempt by the White House to meet this obligation," said Erle Nye, chairman and chief executive at Texas Utilities Co. Texas Utilities operates two reactors at the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant.
"The legal damages from 10 lawsuits filed against the federal government could reach $4 billion, and the administration expects that damages from all suits expected to be filed could total $35 billion," Nye added.
Along with greater financial liability, Nye told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, "The longer the federal government's delay continues, the greater the risk that nuclear power plants may shut down due to insufficient fuel storage capacity."
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson's recent proposal for the government to assume ownership of used nuclear fuel—while leaving it at plant sites—could indefinitely delay development of a permanent disposal facility for used nuclear fuel. "We appreciate the Secretary's intent, but his proposal is not appropriate as a stand-alone concept because it doesn't move fuel to a central storage facility and could leave the government without enough funds to build a repository," Nye explained.
The value in Secretary Richardson's proposal is that it opens a dialogue on the need for federal reform, which Nye said should be focused on the "comprehensive, sensible approach to fulfilling the federal government's commitment" embodied in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1999 (S. 608). The legislation was introduced March 15 by Sen. Frank Murkowski, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sens Larry Craig (ID) Rod Grams (MN) and Michael Crapo (ID).
"This reform legislation does more than create certainty for fuel acceptance and disposal," Nye explained. "It ensures adequate funding through the life of the nuclear fuel management program and provides a stringent, scientifically based health and safety standard for the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. S. 608 establishes a safe transportation system for used fuel, with full participation for states and tribal communities in designating shipping routes, and in notification and training for emergency preparedness."
Nye told senators that strong congressional support for a new U.S. nuclear waste policy paves the way for the Administration to join the reform effort and work for prompt passage of S. 608. "Such legislation has passed in the last two Congresses, and this support is a clear signal to the federal government that it must fulfill its statutory obligation to accept used nuclear fuel," he said.
"Nuclear waste must be safely stored, and the industry is committed to working with the committee, the Secretary of Energy and other stakeholders to resolve this issue. The federal government must meet its obligations to manage used nuclear fuel—it's the right thing to do to meet our nation's energy and environmental goals."
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.