US Court to feds: “Cease nuclear waste disposal fee”

Since 1983, federal law has required utilities to pay fees into a fund to finance permanent federal nuclear waste storage. Due to a variety of factors, the fee collection has continued while the federal government has produced no strategy for implementing this law to completion.

Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the federal government must stop charging utilities until it decides on a permanent way to store the nuclear waste, ostensibly either at the long-planned Yucca Mountain site in Nevada or somewhere else.

This decision, halting collection of this fee, reveals a larger dilemma potentially for America; the feds are “punting” on the issue of necessary storage of nuclear waste at a “national site” to states and the private sector. For whatever political reason, whether it be Yucca Mountain or some other repository, on this topic our federal government appears to want nothing to do with the required burden, responsibility, or consequences of nuclear waste storage.

That is understandable and facilities can be easily run by the private sector and regulated at the state level, but the US Court decision to cease collection of this fee means the federal government has NOT developed a systematic method of depositing waste nationally as mandated. Perhaps the federal government should have addressed barriers to implement the law some time ago, but at one time a federal repository was considered a good idea or the utility fee collection would not have been in law.

Waste will continue to be produced and stored, but no federal facility will be involved. The private sector, whose mission is economic & not necessarily protecting the public wellbeing, will be in the “driver’s seat” regarding viable nuclear waste storage. Doing this safely and regulating responsibly is not difficult to anticipate or control effectively.

But knowing the federal leadership was willing to collect a fee for nuclear waste storage while not using the appropriated funds for that purpose (when they are required to by law), & when the illegal consequences of black-market waste burial could be so devastating to the environment long term is revealing.

I believe standard policy is not the goal as much as avoiding value judgments and fear of protests. It appears the general rationale is to focus on pollution reduction, making permitting standards more rigid, but not endorse Yucca Mountain or develop a sustainable approach to waste storage at the federal level as mandated by law.

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