Appeals court: U.S. must stop collecting nuclear waste disposal fee

Nov. 20, 2013 at 8:00 PM

WASHINGTON, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. Energy Department cannot collect fees from nuclear plants for waste disposal when the costs are unknown, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The appellate court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, a group of nuclear power plant operators.

In a relatively brief opinion, the court said the department has been unable to come up with any real estimate of the costs of disposal. It has been using Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a basis for estimates even though that site is no longer being considered.

The court previously sent the case back to the department for the required annual estimate of the fee required to cover the cost of disposing of nuclear waste. In the opinion, Judge Laurence Silberman said the court instead was given a finding that the fund set aside for disposal is anywhere from $2 trillion in deficit to $4.9 trillion in surplus -- a range the judge called "so large as to be absolutely useless."

"Until the department comes to some conclusion as to how nuclear wastes are to be deposited permanently, it seems quite unfair to force petitioners to pay fees for a hypothetical option, the costs of which might well -- the government apparently has no idea -- be already covered," Silberman said.

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