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NJ Nuclear Utilities Accuse Govt of Ongoing Breach of Contract

The Wall Street Journal recently published an interesting article that discusses the ongoing problem of storing the nation’s nuclear waste. In March, the Energy Department notified the federal Atomic Safety and Licensing Board that it was dropping its plan to store nuclear waste in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. The federal government had spent 30 years and $10 billion dollars trying to find a place to store nuclear waste, only to give it up and go back to the drawing board.

The federal government has been charged with finding a permanent solution for storing nuclear waste since the early 1980s, and legally obligated to do so since 1998, but so far has failed in that task. This has placed the burden of storage on nuclear facilities.  Utilities have filed more than 70 lawsuits against the federal government for breach of contract for leaving them with the burden of managing the waste of spent fuel. The government has paid out $1.3 billion so far. If a permanent facility for storing the nation’s nuclear waste is not opened by 2020, the Department of Justice estimates that liability could exceed $12 billion.

Utilities had thought they only needed to find temporary storage solutions and have been placing radioactive nuclear waste in steel-and-concrete casks, which are licensed for 20-year storage. New Jersey’s Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. has built dry storage in Lower Alloways Creek. PSEG is hoping to create storage space that will last for 60 years. This week they started to fill casks with waste from their Hope Creek power plant. Their Salem plant will begin storing waste at the site in September.

Utilities pay $770 million a year to a Nuclear Waste Fund that will pay for the permanent storage facility. Angry that a site hasn’t even been chosen yet, a group of utilities sued the federal government in April, demanding that the fees be suspended. Currently, 14,000 metric tons of nuclear waste is sitting in 800 concrete casks. Additionally, 49,000 metric tons of waste is sitting in spent-fuel pools, waiting to cool enough to move onto the temporary casks (takes about five years). Nuclear reactors create 2,000 metric tons of waste a year.

One problem with Yucca Mountain was that it is too small to become a storage facility for current and future nuclear waste needs. Right now, it could fit about how much nuclear waste the country already has sitting in temporary storage. Nevada also objected to becoming the nation’s nuclear waste dumping ground.



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