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Mar. 27 – Georgia Senate to consider Resolution to ‘Reestablish’ a Nuclear Waste Program, long overdue on the Federal level

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

March 27, 2017 – The Georgia Senate will consider Senate Resolution 407 on Tuesday, urgsing Georgia's Congressional Delegation to take a leadership role in resolving the U.S's national problem of what to do with nuclear waste. 

Because Georia has two, new nuclear reactors under construction. 

The resolution states it is for “Encouraging the Georgia Congressional Delegation to immediately enact legislation with the sole purpose of reestablishing a Nuclear Waste Program per the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.”

The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) is the state's regulatory body, responsible for the regulation of utilities, including electric utilities that generate or purchase electric power from nuclear powered electric generating plants. Georgia Power is currently build two new nuclear reactors in Waynesboro, the first new reactors built in the United States since the accident at Three Mile Island.

In order “to permanently dispose of high-level radioactive nuclear waste, including spent nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear plants,” Georgia must work with the Federal government as part of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA) that established that the United States Department of Energy (DOE) is the body to enter into contracts to dispose of spent nuclear fuel.

The utility companies serving customers with electricity generated from civilian nuclear reactors hold those contracts, pay the fees, and pass the cost of such fees onto ratepayers. The Nuclear Waste Fund is a separate fund established in the United States Treasury to finance radioactive waste disposal activities; and

The co-owners of the new reactors are Georgia Power Company, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG), the Oglethorpe Power Corporation, and the City of Dalton Board of Water, Light and Sinking Fund Commissioners. 

Georgia Power Company has collected approximately 17 cents per month from its customers through the company's Fuel Cost Recovery (FCR) tariff, which is currently on hold per due to a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. 

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission would consider the Department of Energy's license application to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, according to the resolution, and "shall issue a final decision approving or disapproving" the application within up to four years.

The Long Legal Battle on Where the Nuclear Waste Will Go

Not only is Georgia Power's nuclear plant project over budget, behind schedule, and its contractor is about to file bankruptcy this week, but there has also been a long legal battle between federal agencies on where the nuclear waste that will be generated by the plant, will go.

In June, 2008, the DOE filed a license application with the NRC, and in 2010, DOE moved to withdraw its application and terminate the project; and the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (Board) denied the motion to withdraw, but on review, the NRC unanimously directed the Board to suspend the license application proceeding and preserve necessary records because of budgetary constraints.  Then, on August 3, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued an order holding in abeyance a case seeking to compel the NRC to resume consideration of a license application filed by the DOE to develop a permanent nuclear waste repository in Yucca Mountain, Nevada (Yucca Mountain). On August 13, 2013, the Court issued its opinion, concluding that a writ of mandamus should be issued against the NRC, and the writ of mandamus requires the NRC  to continue the Yucca Mountain license application proceeding, as long as there is funding available.

But, the Senate Resolution to be voted on Tuesday states that the “DOE has failed to meet the mandate of the NWPA to begin accepting spent nuclear fuel for disposal in 1998; and funds collected by DOE for the purpose of constructing and operating the  nation's nuclear waste repository in accordance with the NWPA were partially used to research the feasibility of Yucca Mountain and have since been held in abeyance due to the suspension of the license review where such funds are currently being held by the federal government without a nuclear waste repository, and there is no schedule of when DOE might begin receipt of any spent fuel.” 

Further, Senate Resolution 407 states, “the costs to the federal government, and hence, United States taxpayers, due to liability for partial breach of contract suits, increase by approximately $500 million from the Judgment Fund for each additional year after DOE fails to begin accepting spent fuel for disposal; and as of December, 2014, ratepayers in Georgia have contributed over $1.6 billion,  including interest, to the NWF fee with nothing to show for it.” 

The Secretary of Energy appointed a ‘Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future (BRC)’ which reviewed the waste situation and made its recommendations to the Secretary in January, 2012, which was confirmed by DOE in its report of February, 2013.

And the Senate Resolution states that nuclear waste legislation intended to put the troubled waste program back on track has been introduced in Congress many times, but has not been enacted. 

A D.C. Circuit court explained that "so long as the government has no viable alternative to Yucca Mountain as a repository for nuclear waste [the nuclear plant owners and operators] should not be charged an annual fee to cover the cost of that disposal.” 

The Senators are asking Georgia’s Congressional Delegation “to immediately enact legislation with the sole purpose of reestablishing a Nuclear Waste Program per the Nuclear Waste Policy Act as Georgia's ratepayers and citizens along with the rest of the country have paid, including interest, over $39 billion into the Nuclear Waste Fund in addition to paying for storage and security of the utilities' nuclear waste on-site in their respective states.” 

Senators Shafer of the 48th, Frank Ginn of the 47th, Ben Watson of the 1st, Gooch of the 51st, Walker III of the 20th and others,” are listed as co-sponsors.

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