Progress Energy Wins $82 Million in Spent Nuclear Fuel Ruling

RALEIGH, North Carolina, May 23, 2008 (ENS) – The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has ruled that Progress Energy should be paid $82.8 million for costs incurred as a result of the federal government’s failure to accept spent nuclear fuel from the utility.

The award covers the costs incurred by Progress Energy to activate fuel storage facilities at plants in Florida and the Carolinas and costs to transfer used nuclear fuel between plants for storage.

The lawsuit stemmed from the U.S. Department of Energy’s failure to open a federal repository for used nuclear fuel by January 31, 1998, as stipulated under federal law.

To date, the Department of Energy, DOE, has yet to collect and dispose of any spent fuel, even as nuclear plant owners have been paying billions of dollars in fees to the agency under the Standard Contract for Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and/or High Level Radioactive Waste. Nuclear plant owners and operators were required to enter into DOE’s Standard Contract as a condition to obtaining renewal of their operating licenses.

Plaintiffs alone have paid DOE $661 million in fees through December 31, 2005 for disposal of spent nuclear fuel, the court noted.

The Yucca Mountain Repository is the proposed DOE storage facility for spent nuclear reactor fuel. The repository is located on federal land adjacent to the Nevada Nuclear Test Site in Nye County, Nevada, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The DOE was to begin accepting spent fuel at the Yucca Mountain by January 31, 1998 but has yet to do so because of delays due to legal challenges, concerns over how to transport nuclear waste to the facility, and political pressures resulting in underfunding of the construction.

On July 23, 2002, President George W. Bush signed House Joint Resolution 87, authorizing Yucca Mountain as the nation’s spent nuclear fuel repository. The Department of Energy is in the process of preparing an application to obtain the Nuclear Regulatory Commission license to proceed with construction.

There is currently no official date set for opening the facility, and as a result spent fuel continues to accumulate at reactor sites and other above-ground temporary storage locations across the country.

Since Yucca Mountain was not opened by the appointed date, Progress Energy had to revise its plans to include onsite storage at its nuclear power plants.

Progress Energy originally filed the complaint against the Department of Energy asserting $91 million in costs incurred between January 31, 1998 and December 31, 2005 – the time period established by the court for the complaint.

Costs incurred after 2005 can be recovered in future claims. The trial that resulted in this judgment was conducted in November 2007 and April 2008.

Progress Energy’s Crystal River Nuclear
Power Plant (Photo courtesy NRC)

Progress Energy operates five reactors at four sites, one in Florida, one in South Carolina, and two in North Carolina.

The single unit, 838 megawatt Crystal River Nuclear Plant is located near Crystal River, Florida.

The single-unit, 710-MW Robinson Nuclear Plant is located near Hartsville, South Carolina.

In North Carolina, the two-unit, 1,875 megawatt Brunswick Nuclear Plant is located near Southport, and the single-unit, 900 megawatt Harris Nuclear Plant is located near New Hill.

Nuclear energy accounted for about 35 percent of the company’s total energy produced for customers in 2007, enough electricity to power 2.6 million homes.

The company has the capability to continue to store used nuclear fuel rods safely on site at each plant. Meanwhile, the company continues to advocate for a permanent federal storage solution for the nation’s nuclear reactors.

“Nuclear energy is going to continue to be a critical part of our ability to meet the needs of our growing service areas,” said Bill Johnson, Progress Energy chairman, president and chief executive.

“Nuclear power will be one means of addressing global climate change while ensuring a reliable energy supply for future generations,” Johnson said, “and as a country we must address the issue of used nuclear fuel with a clear national policy based on scientific and engineering facts.”

Approximately 60 similar cases have been litigated between utility companies and the federal government. Some of the suits have been settled. A number of cases are still pending.

The Department of Justice can appeal the Progress Energy decision within the next 60 days. Given the likelihood of an appeal, no decision has been made regarding the disposition of the potential court award.

To read the court’s ruling, click here [].

For the Yucca Mountain official website, click here [].

View This Story On Eco–mmunity Map.