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Court rulings revive Yucca dump licensing proceeding, end collection of Nuclear Waste Fund fee

Will the Yucca dump zombie rise again? Nevada says NO! Political cartoon by Jim Day, Las Vegas Review Journal, 2010 (be sure to count the toes!)In 1987, it was "Screw Nevada." Now, it appears to be "screw the taxpayer," and "screw future generations."

Rulings issued by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia have led to a partial revival of the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada high-level radioactive waste (HLRW) dump's licensing proceeding before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), while ordering the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to end Nuclear Waste Fund fee collections intended to ultimately pay for HLRW disposal.

On Nov. 18th, the five NRC Commissioners issued an order to the agency's staff to complete its Safety Evaluation Report (SER) regarding DOE's cancelled plan to bury 70,000 metric tons of irradiated nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste less than 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, on sacred Western Shoshone Indian Nation treaty lands. The Commission order comes in response to a 2-1 split decision at the DC Appeals Court in August. Two Republican appointees mandated NRC resume the Yucca licensing proceeding, so long as related funds remain in its coffers to do so. The dissenting Democratic appointee referred to the majority decision as the "doing of a useless act."

In fact, the Commission order admits that completing the five volume SER over the next year will likely deplete most of the $11 million in NRC's carryover funding remaining from its Nuclear Waste Fund allocations. The NRC Commissioners also requested that DOE supplement its previous Yucca Mountain Environmental Impact Statement.

Speaking of the Nuclear Waste Fund, another DC Appeals Court ruling issued on Nov. 19th appears to have ended it. The three-judge panel (comprised exclusively of Republican appointees) has ordered DOE to stop collecting Nuclear Waste Fund fees. Since the enactment of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act 30 years ago, DOE has collected one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour of nuclear generated electricity. This surcharge on ratepayers consuming nuclear eletricity has never been adjusted for inflation since. It has generated some $30 billion. Some $8 billion of that was spent studying the Yucca site. But Yucca's total price tag, if constructed and operated, was estimated to have been around $100 billion, tens of billions of dollars more than the Nuclear Waste Fund fee would ever collect. More.