RICHLAND -- Energy Northwest has joined a federal lawsuit filed this week asking for a suspension of the fee collected from consumers to pay for nuclear fuel management.
Ratepayers receiving nuclear energy must pay a per kilowatt-hour fee to the Department of Energy for it to manage used nuclear fuel. For Northwest ratepayers who depend on power from the Columbia Generating Station near Richland, the amount paid into the Nuclear Waste Fund since the power plant began operating in 1984 has totaled almost $300 million.
"Energy Northwest is concerned about the continued collection and use of consumer dollars to fund the Nuclear Waste Fund, particularly since the federal government has announced it is terminating the Yucca Mountain project and another solution has not been identified," said Rochelle Olson, spokeswoman for Energy Northwest.
Used nuclear fuel at the power plant near Richland had been expected to be disposed of at Yucca Mountain, Nev., but the Obama administration has decided that Yucca Mountain is not a workable option and has moved to withdraw the repository's licensing application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
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The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by the Nuclear Energy Institute and 16 of its member companies, including Energy Northwest. In addition, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners filed a similar lawsuit Monday.
The fee, which annually collects $750 million nationwide, is not necessary, given that the Obama administration's budget request for fiscal 2012 does not include any money for the used nuclear fuel management program, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.
DOE annually considers the adequacy of the fee and in October determined that no change in the fee is necessary. It is set at one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour used.
Although Yucca Mountain is off the table, DOE remains committed to meet its obligation to manage and dispose of the nation's spent nuclear fuel, said DOE in its 2010 memo on the annual determination of the adequacy of the fee.
The assessment completed a year earlier said the fee was adequate based on the most recent life cycle cost estimate for Yucca Mountain of $97 billion.
"One cannot determine with any confidence at this time precisely how much the yet-to-be-selected disposal alternative will cost, but the closest proxy -- albeit an imperfect one -- is the costs of the proposed Yucca facility," the memo said.
The Nuclear Energy Institute said it considered the DOE review inadequate.
"Consumers need a nuclear waste fund fee remedy now," Olson said. "It's past time to relieve nationwide consumers of more than $750 million in annual payments, especially during these difficult economic times."
Energy Northwest now is storing used nuclear fuel in heavy steel and concrete casks on outdoor concrete pads at its nuclear power plant.
A year ago, the U.S. Court of federal Claims ordered DOE to award Energy Northwest $57 million for costs to that time associated with storing the fuel after Yucca Mountain did not open as planned in 1998.
-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org.