House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) today wrote to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting an analysis of the costs and liabilities associated with the Obama administration's new nuclear waste proposal. Despite the current law's clear focus on the Yucca Mountain program, President Obama's Department of Energy has proposed a different direction for the nation's nuclear waste that includes interim storage until a new geologic repository can be built by 2048. The committee leaders are asking GAO how such a proposal would affect costs and liability for taxpayers and the timeline for a permanent nuclear waste solution.
The members wrote, "DOE now is 15 years behind schedule in taking custody of commercial used nuclear fuel. As a result, utilities have been storing the used fuel on the sites where it was generated. Utilities have filed lawsuits seeking to recover from the federal government the costs incurred. In its fiscal year 2012 Agency Financial Report, DOE reported that utilities had filed 78 lawsuits seeking to recover the costs of storing the used fuel and that the Department of Treasury's judgment fund had paid about $2.6 billion in claims. DOE estimates that further claims -- i.e., taxpayer liability -- will amount to about $19.7 billion through 2020, which is the date DOE had determined Yucca Mountain could begin disposal operations when it filed its license application in 2008. That 2020 timeline is no longer viable with DOE's decision in 2010 to walk away from Yucca Mountain. At this point in time, the program has been delayed an estimated eight years, with each year of delay increasing taxpayer liability for DOE's failure to take custody of the used fuel."
In response to a previous committee request, GAO concluded last August that it would be faster to resume and finish the Yucca Mountain repository than starting over and pursuing interim storage.
The letter continues, "In January 2013, despite its legal obligations for developing Yucca Mountain, DOE issued a new strategy for managing and disposing of its used nuclear fuel In light of this interest in interim storage, we seek to understand DOE's assumptions supporting its pursuit of interim storage, and the implications of its proposals, should they be pursued, on DOE's legal obligations, taxpayer liabilities, and established nuclear waste policy."
Full letter is available in PDF format below: