A new report by the New England Center for Investigative Journalism and the Connecticut Hearst Media Group finds that New England ratepayers have pumped $1 billion into a federal waste fund for the past three decades, honoring their end of a 1982 bargain with the government to finance the permanent storage of thousands of tons of spent fuel from the region’s reactors.
A cavernous $11 billion hole in a Nevada mountainside, as well as a broken promise from the U.S. government to remove the radioactive waste and mounting bills that could still saddle New England with at least five mothballed plants and dozens of dry spent fuel casks, turning communities into mini nuclear storage sites for decades, if not forever.
This is the second report in an investigative series examining the state of nuclear power in New England. As noted last week, I have been contributing to this series. The latest installment I co-wrote with journalists from NECIR.
As the unfolding calamity in Japan has resurrected debate about government and industry promises of the energy’s cost effectiveness, a review of regional costs by NECIR and the Hearst Connecticut Media Group has found:
The cost bleed is not unique to New England. Plant owners and the ratepayers they charge are grappling with intensifying spent fuel storage bills now that the Obama administration — even as it touts industry expansion — has tabled plans for a federal dump at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.
As analysts and policy makers debate whether nuclear energy will ever be affordable, the federal government continues to spend money to support it on a vast scale. To date, $11 billion has been spent to excavate and prepare the now-abandoned Yucca site, leaving about $20 billion in the fund, industry experts said.
Beyond the unexpected storage costs, taxpayers and ratepayers could also be on the hook for billions in additional costs ranging from proposed federal subsidies and loans, as well as decommissing the plants and cleaning up the hazardous sites.
At least one New England plant is seeking an exemption from federal law that would allow it to use its decommissioning fund to pay for storage costs. Vermont Yankee — whose decommissioning fund is already short millions — wants the NRC to allow them to use the money to pay for fuel storage, according to a 2008 plan it filed with the agency.
In 2009, the NRC required Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc., which owns Vermont Yankee, a limited liability corporation, to put up a $40 million loan guarantee because its decommissioning funds are off track, said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.
In its NRC proposal, Entergy estimated it would need about $220 million — about half the current fund — to deal with spent fuel, seeking permission to draw from the decommissioning fund built up with ratepayer money.
“Entergy VT will periodically revisit the cash contribution required for the decommissioning fund to ensure that spent fuel management withdrawals would not inhibit the ability of the licensee to complete radiological decommissioning,” the proposal states.
To read the full story and learn more about the potential shortfall in decommissioning funds and the debate over federal subsidies and loan guarantees for nuclear power, click here.
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