As quoted from the first line of the WSJ article:
"The Obama administration wants a bigger legal team to do battle with utility companies over the federal government's failure to collect spent nuclear waste as required by legislation from the 1980s."
Let me spell this out in a little more detail. In 1982, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. (careful, that one's a big pdf. Here's the wiki.) In it, Congress started charging the nuclear electric utility companies one-tenth of one cent for every kilowatt-hour of electricity they sold. That money was to be put aside for a long term geologic repository, and Congress guaranteed that it would be open for business (i.e., the utilities could ship their spent fuel to it) by 1998. Of course, that 0.1 cent charge was passed on to consumers.
In 1987, Congress amended the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, and picked Yucca Mountain as the one geologic repository. One repository to rule them all. This is not a bad idea, really. The waste has to be put somewhere (or reprocessed, which wasn't really on America's radar screen in the early to mid 1980's after President Carter banned it), and Congress should be commended for its forward thinking -- charge the customers a small fee now, and build towards a final solution. This is much more palatable than paying for a large project all in one fell swoop.
1998 came and went. No repository. Whoops. Congress moved the date back to 2004.
2004 came and went. No repository. And DOE announced there wasn't gonna be one for a while.
And it's been dying a slow death ever since, with perhaps the final nail in the coffin in the current budget request now in 2010.
Guess who's pissed? The nuclear utility companies who have had billions taxed from them and received nothing in return. And the taxpayers should be livid now, too. The nuclear power companies are gunning for the money that has been taken from them -- to the tune of $50 billion -- and they've got one heck of a case going for them. And now the Justice Department wants another $11 million to help defend its case?
That's just throwing good money after bad. This post is not intended to spawn a discussion over whether Yucca Mountain should be pursued or not; it's intended to point out the gall of lawmakers to endlessly spend money on an indefensible position. At the very least, Congress should stop taxing the ratepayers for something the government admits isn't going to happen. That alone might get the utilities off their back.
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