Nuclear industry joins call to suspend waste fees

WASHINGTON -- Sixteen nuclear utilities filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday asking judges to suspend the fees that the Department of Energy collects for a nuclear waste fund.

The fund was created to build long-term storage for the waste. But with the Obama administration moving to terminate the planned Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada, the fees should be halted at least for the time being, according to the utilities.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, the trade and lobbying arm of the nuclear industry, joined the lawsuit that was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

It becomes the second lawsuit to challenge the Energy Department's handling of the fund. The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners filed a similar petition on Friday, and attorneys expected the two to be joined.

With the administration wanting to end the Nevada program, and without a new waste disposal strategy in place, the fees should be halted, said Michael Bauser, deputy general counsel of the Nuclear Energy Institute.

"We don't know what they are going to come up with but while they do not have (a program) we do not think it is proper for them to collect the fee," Bauser said.

A DOE spokeswoman said Friday that the high-level commission that was formed to recommend a new nuclear waste strategy has been asked to review the fund.

In the meantime, DOE officials have said it is still necessary to collect payments toward whatever strategy emerges.

Consumers who draw power from nuclear reactors are charged one-tenth of a penny per kilowatt hour of electricity used. The DOE collects about $750 million a year. The fund has raised $34.4 billion since 1983, and about $10 billion has been spent.

Besides the institute, the utilities filing the lawsuit were Florida Power & Light Co.; NextEra Energy Seabrook; NextEra Energy Duane Arnold; NextEra Energy Point Beach; Omaha Public Power District; Public Service Enterprise Group; Indiana Michigan Power Co.; Energy Northwest; PPL Susquehanna; The Detroit Edison Co.; Nebraska Public Power District; Northern States Power Co.; Kansas Gas and Electric Co.; Kansas City Power & Light Co.; Kansas Electric Power Cooperative Inc.; and Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760.