"We can expect more of the same until the government begins meeting its obligation to move used fuel off of plant sites," said Steve Kerekes, senior director of media relations with the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington D.C. "The larger situation right now is the government doesn't have a waste management program in place."
Kerekes said President Barack Obama appointed a commission to look into how to proceed with a nuclear waste management program. Kerekes said the Energy Department estimates that damages for similar cases around the country could reach as high as $20 billion by 2020. He said damages nationally sit at about $2 billion currently.
Wayne Norton, who leads the three decommissioned plants, said the litigation damages represent damages through 2001 for Connecticut Yankee and Yankee Atomic and through 2002 for Maine Yankee.
"While recovering monetary damages from the federal government is positive for the ratepayers it does not result in spent nuclear fuel and Greater than Class C waste being removed from the three companies' sites," said Norton in a written statement. "However, we are pleased that in the Department of Energy's January 11 strategy report the administration supports an integrated nuclear waste management system that includes a pilot interim storage facility with an initial focus on accepting spent nuclear fuel from shut-down reactor sites. We are hopeful Congress and the Administration will move immediately to implement the report recommendations and we look forward to working with others to bring that about," added Norton.
The ongoing litigation between the three companies and the Department of Energy is being conducted in phases as an earlier court decision ruled that utility companies cannot receive damage awards for costs that have not yet been incurred. As a result, the three decommissioned companies have, and expect to continue to litigate with the Department of Energy every several years to request damages for costs incurred.
The three companies are currently seeking approximately $247 million in additional damages from the Department of Energy in a second round of cases that were filed with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in 2007.
In these Phase II cases, Connecticut Yankee is seeking $135.3 million, Yankee Atomic $76.6 million, and Maine Yankee $35 million. These numbers reflect the damages that Connecticut Yankee and Yankee Atomic incurred from January 1, 2002 through December 31, 2008, and that Maine Yankee incurred from January 1, 2003 through December 31, 2008.
The current annual cost to store the spent nuclear fuel is approximately $7 to $11 million per site. However, Norton claims that annual cost could well increase as regulations evolve and potentially impose additional requirements on the companies.
It may come as a surprise to some that the decommissioned Connecticut Yankee plant is receiving any funding after it was shut down in late 1996 after 28 years of operation. At the time it was the nation's second oldest reactor.
In 1996, a company study found the plant was too costly to keep operating. The reactor was shut down for safety problems in July 1996 and summer inspections found that a backup safety system might not work properly in an emergency.
By August 1996, even while it was shut down, a serious nuclear accident could have happened, regulators said at the time, when the water level over the fuel core dropped by about three feet. Operators failed to notice the problem because gauges had been disconnected.