The federal government must pay Energy Northwest $19.3 million for its continued costs because the Department of Energy failed to accept the used fuel from its nuclear power plant near Richland, according to a federal court ruling this week.
DOE has not accepted used fuel as promised from nuclear plants because it failed to open the planned Yucca Mountain, Nev., nuclear fuel and waste repository.
This week's ruling follows a decision in 2011 that awarded Energy Northwest $48.7 million in damages for the construction and licensing of a used fuel storage area at the Columbia Generating Station. That award was for 1998 through August 2006.
Energy Northwest then filed another lawsuit that resulted in the latest judgment, claiming a continuing breach of contract. It covered costs from August 2006 until June 2012.
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The $19.3 million is only a portion of the latest damages claimed, with more expected to be determined after a trial, according to Energy Northwest. Energy Northwest was asking for $24.9 million.
"This is another big victory for the region and the ratepayers of the Northwest," said Mark Reddemann, Energy Northwest chief executive. "However, this judgment does not resolve the issue of long-term storage of used nuclear fuel, nor does it lessen the legal obligation of the federal government to develop and manage that process."
In 1983, Energy Northwest and other U.S. nuclear utilities entered into an agreement with DOE for disposal of used nuclear fuel, which was to start by January 1998.
A fee has been collected to pay for that work and Energy Northwest has paid more than $100 million in fees since 1983 based on the amount of fuel generated.
A federal court has barred the federal government from using that money in the Nuclear Waste Fund to pay damages that are the result of DOE delays.
After the Obama administration decided to shut down work on Yucca Mountain, a Blue Ribbon commission on America's Nuclear Future was to propose a plan for the nation's used commercial nuclear fuel and defense high-level radioactive waste, including waste at Hanford.
The report issued by the commission estimated that total damage awards to utilities, including Energy Northwest, could amount to $20.8 billion if the federal government begins to accept used commercial fuel in 2020.
Each year that the schedule slips could add about $500 million to the cost.
Nuclear utilities have filed more than 60 lawsuits, including the one filed by Energy Northwest.
Energy Northwest began building a secure, outdoor storage pad for its used fuel in 2001 after Yucca Mountain failed to open as planned in 1998.
Previously, all of the plant's used fuel had been kept in a storage pool next to the reactor core at the Columbia Generating Station.
Twenty-seven casks, each with 68 fuel assemblies, were moved to the storage pad from 2002 -08.
Earlier this month, Energy Northwest began removing used fuel from the storage pool and putting it in dry storage.
Work is expected to continue until about May 10 to move nine casks of fuel assemblies to dry storage. Each cask stands about 19 feet tall and measures 11 feet in diameter.
Each concrete cask encases a stainless steel canister that can be filled underwater with used fuel. The casks are stored upright on the concrete pad.
The used fuel can be safely and securely stored for decades on the concrete pad, said Energy Northwest, but it continues to advocate for establishment of a national repository.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @HanfordNews