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Industry Lauds Order on Suspension of Nuclear Waste Fund Fee

Nov. 21, 2013—The Nuclear Energy Institute has hailed a federal appeals ruling that orders the Energy Department to ask Congress to suspend collection of fees for the Nuclear Waste Fund—which was created to pay for management of the nation’s used nuclear fuel—until the department complies with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act or Congress enacts a new waste management program.

The unanimous ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reinforces the principle that the federal government is obligated to carry out the law whether or not the responsible agency or the president agrees with the underlying policy.

“It confirms that the federal government cannot continue to defy Congress’ explicit direction to implement a viable program to manage reactor fuel from America’s nuclear power plants,” said Ellen Ginsberg, NEI general counsel. Ginsberg said the industry agrees with the court that unless the repository program is restarted or another waste disposal program is developed, the fee for the program should be suspended.

Congress established the Nuclear Waste Fund expressly to support the development of a repository for used nuclear fuel. Consumers pay one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated with nuclear energy.

The fund collects $750 million a year, has a balance of approximately $30 billion and annually accrues about $1.5 billion in interest. Since the Energy Department terminated the project in 2010, NEI and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners have sought to suspend the fee until there is an active nuclear waste program.

“Because the secretary [of energy] is apparently unable to conduct a legally adequate fee assessment, the secretary is ordered to submit to Congress a proposal to change the fee to zero until such time as either the secretary chooses to comply with the [Nuclear Waste Policy] Act as it is currently written, or until Congress enacts an alternative waste management plan,” D.C. Circuit Senior Judge Silberman wrote.

“The court’s decision should prompt Congress to reform the government’s nuclear waste disposal program,” Ginsberg said. “We strongly encourage Congress to establish a new waste management entity and endow it with the powers and funding necessary to achieve the goals originally established in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.”