Federal government's empty nuclear promises cost taxpayers $38 billion

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: federal government, empty promises, nuclear industry

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(NaturalNews) Unfortunately, because the federal government takes in so much of our money and is so large, it is not uncommon to hear about cases of waste, fraud and abuse. Hell, duplication of services alone costs taxpayers at least $100 billion annually.

Now, according to Politico, Uncle Sam has wasted $38 billion - and probably more - on storing the nuclear waste generated by the country's 100 or so nuclear plants:

That's just the lowball estimate for how much taxpayers will wind up spending because of the government's decades of dithering about how to handle the radioactive leftovers sitting at dozens of sites in 38 states. The final price will be higher unless the government starts collecting the waste by 2020, which almost nobody who tracks the issue expects.

The online political site reported that the first $15 billion in expenditures came as part of a controversial nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. That project was being pursued until the Obama administration scrapped it.

Now, the additional $23 billion is tied to the Energy Department's estimate of the damages that taxpayers will have to pay to nuclear power plants and facilities, who - for the past three decades - have paid a fee to the department on the promise that the federal government would start collecting their waste in 1998.

Billions wasted, billions more likely to be

Industry officials say the figure is closer to $50 billion, which ups the total amount to around $65 billion, when you count the money wasted at the Yucca storage site.

For the record, a divided Nuclear Regulatory Commission eventually agreed to allow the Obama administration to close the site in 2011, citing "budgetary limitations" - which simply meant that Obama's Energy Department declined to seek additional funding to keep the site in development.

More from Politico on this wasteful government boondoggle:

The cost of the refunds is little known to the public, but it's such a huge liability that DOE tracks the figure closely. The government is still fighting the utilities' claims in court, but utilities have been racking up a string of wins.

The costs of inaction don't just include dollars. The lack of a final resting place for the waste means that each nuclear plant has to stockpile its own. Thousands of tons of waste are stranded at sites around the country, including at plants that have shut down.

Years ago, critics of the Yucca storage facility fretted that transporting nuclear waste (by rail, largely) was unsafe. But what is more unsafe, moving the nation's nuclear waste to a central location or storing it at nearly 100 sites around the country?

"I'm trying to think of some fancy words, but at the end of the day it's just a massive consumer rip-off," Greg White, a regulator on the Michigan Public Service Commission who also heads the nuclear waste panel for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, told Politico.

Salo Zelermyer, a former George W. Bush-era Energy Department attorney who works at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani, observed that the waste program clearly had "broken down." Worse, he said the government has made "no discernible progress towards its commitments."

Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is also frustrated. Last month, he called the system of storing nuclear waste at reactor sites "politically unsustainable."

"For nuclear energy to be competitive here in the U.S. and ensure its safety and security abroad, we have to address the problem of disposition of used nuclear fuel and high-level waste," Moniz observed during a panel discussion at an American Nuclear Society meeting.

But like others within the administration, Moniz still maintains that the Yucca Mountain site is not "a workable option":

Congress chose the Nevada site in 1987 as the country's sole permanent nuclear repository, but it continues to draw fierce opposition from many of the state's residents and elected officials. One of its most powerful opponents is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who blocked funding for the project and pushed the Obama administration to kill it - something DOE did in 2010.

Court says closure of Yucca Mountain illegal

Meanwhile, Reid really doesn't have a solution for the problem, other than NIMBY - Not In My Back Yard.

Now, after wasting scores of billions and letting the problem fester for decades, the administration's answer is to simply start over and find a new site that will be acceptable to other lawmakers, other residents, in some other state.

The latest plan, by the way, calls for opening a repository - in 2048, "although the department would try to open a temporary storage site by 2021."

Worse, despite its near-constant construction, the Yucca Mountain site would not be finished until 2027, even if the government were to revive it immediately.

A side note: A U.S. appeals court has ruled that the administration's closure of Yucca Mountain was illegal. See that report here.


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