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On Election Day, Yucca Mountain Rears Its Ugly Head Again

Yucca Mountain, Nevada’s embattled proposed nuclear waste repository, is a not a winning issue in Nevada. Not for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has been a staunch opponent of disposing of nuclear waste in his state. And not for his opponent, Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle, even though she advocates for expanded nuclear energy.

Now, on the day of the midterm elections, the fight over Yucca Mountain is getting attention again.

First, some background:

Since 1983, the Department of Energy has collected a fee from nuclear utilities (one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt hour). That money — collected in the Nuclear Waste Fund — is meant to pay for the high costs associated with nuclear waste disposal.

The only problem is, the United States has been unable to get a permanent waste repository for nuclear waste up and running. After studying a number of potential sites, Congress settled in 1987 on Yucca Mountain, in Nevada. But the site has never accepted nuclear waste, having been mired in legal challenges and opposition. Reid and Angle have both said they oppose the project.

Soon after taking office, President Obama made it his mission to ensure that Yucca Mountain never opens. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has repeatedly expressed his opposition to the site, and the administration has tried to cut its funding.

Because the proposed waste repository at Yucca Mountain has never opened its doors, the $24 billion that’s been collected so far from the fee has essentially just been sitting in the bank. Not surprisingly, the nuclear utilities that have been paying the fee aren’t pleased about this.

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, which represents state public service commissioners, is suing the Department of Energy because it is simultaneously rejecting Yucca Mountain as a waste repository and continuing to impose the fee on nuclear utilities.

Just in time for the midterm elections, Chu released an assessment yesterday of the fee under the Nuclear Waste Fund. In the assessment, Chu said, “[T]here is no reasonable basis at this time to conclude that either excess or insufficient funds are being collected and thus will not propose an adjustment to the fee to Congress.”

Not surprisingly, NARUC is not happy with the assessment. In a statement, Rob Thormeyer, NARUC spokesman, said:

[B]y articulating its current view that the Yucca project is ‘not workable,’ the Administration is essentially conceding that there is no factual basis for any fee assessment in the first place. Yet, citing a congressional requirement for an annual assessment of the fee, the Administration contends that it has unlimited discretion to maintain a fee, even though said fee cannot be justified. This reasoning is tortuous as best.

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