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For Immediate Release: April 2, 2010
Contact: Robert J. Thormeyer, 202-898-9382, rthormeyer@naruc.org

State Regulators Go to Court with DOE over Nuclear Waste Fees

WASHINGTON--The nation’s State utility regulators are taking the U.S. Department of Energy to court over its decision last year to continue charging fees associated with moving and disposing of spent-nuclear fuel.

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) filed a petition for review today at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. NARUC is the national association representing the State Public Service Commissioners who regulate essential utility services, such as energy, telecommunications, and water.

At issue is DOE’s October 2009 rejection of a request from NARUC to suspend payments into the Nuclear Waste Fund (NWF), a fund Congress established in 1982 to pay for the transportation and permanent disposal of commercial nuclear waste. The fees are assessed to nuclear utility companies and passed through to ratepayers by NARUC’s Public Service Commission members based upon the federal government’s explicit promise that the waste would be moved and safely disposed by DOE, most likely at the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada. To date, ratepayers have paid approximately $17 billion into the fund over the last 27 years. Further, the fund has earned an additional $13.5 billion in interest, bringing it to about $30 billion.

Although the Yucca project has been oft delayed, DOE in 2008 filed an application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to operate the repository. But since taking office in January 2009, the Obama Administration made clear their intent to shutter the project and convene the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future to recommend a new disposal strategy.

With the Administration effectively zeroing out funding for the project in its budget proposals, NARUC last July asked the Energy Department to suspend payments into the NWF, determining that since the project was stalled, ratepayers shouldn’t be charged for it. In response, DOE rejected the request, asserting that all fee payments to the fund are essential.

NARUC, in its petition, said DOE’s rejection is an actionable determination that can be challenged in court.

"Since 1983, the nation’s nuclear-utility consumers have faithfully contributed almost $20 billion into the Nuclear Waste Fund, with the expectation that the spent-nuclear fuel would be safely moved and stored,” said NARUC President David Coen of Vermont. “Unfortunately, the federal government has failed to live up to its end of the bargain. We do not take this action lightly; we are hopeful that the newly appointed Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future will chart a workable path. But until that time, there is no need to assess these fees on our consumers, particularly when we have no idea what solutions the Commission will suggest, and whether they will be implemented.”

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NARUC is a non-profit organization founded in 1889 whose members include the governmental agencies that are engaged in the regulation of utilities and carriers in the fifty States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. NARUC's member agencies regulate telecommunications, energy, and water utilities. NARUC represents the interests of State public utility commissions before the three branches of the Federal government.

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