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November 24, 2014

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Court suspends collection of fees for nuclear waste disposal

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Yucca Mountain

Yucca Mountain

The U.S. Energy Department plans to store spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain, an extinct volcano about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

CARSON CITY — A federal appeals court ruled today that operators of the nation’s nuclear power plants cannot be forced to pay the Department of Energy an annual fee for disposal of their radioactive waste, because no disposal site has been selected.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., ordered the DOE to submit to Congress a proposal to change the fee to zero.

Nuclear operators have paid more than $27 billion over the years to help cover the costs of long-term storage and disposal of nuclear waste from the nation’s 100 commercial nuclear reactors. With interest, the fund is approaching an estimated $30 billion.

The money has sat idle for decades amid disputes about how to dispose of the waste. The Obama administration has moved to close the nuclear dump planned at Yucca Mountain.

Today, nuclear power plants store waste on site.

A DOE spokeswoman said the department was reviewing the court’s opinion.

The court, in a decision by Senior Circuit Judge Laurence H. Silberman, said the Department of Energy failed to follow the law to determine if the fee was proper.

The same court ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to restart licensing proceedings for Yucca Mountain, even if it did not have enough money to go through the full process.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Marta Adams said unless Congress appropriates more funds, the Yucca project is dead.

It has been estimated that the commission will need up to $100 million to determine if Yucca Mountain should be designated as a national repository for nuclear waste. Congress has not allocated any money for the project in three years.

The states of South Carolina and Washington, which have nuclear power plants, are pushing for Yucca Mountain to be designated as a storage site for radioactive waste.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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