A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

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Feds Take Money But Pass On the Job of Disposing Nuclear Waste

Government has collected nearly $37 billion from rate payers

DTE Energy has joined a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Energy that says the federal agency has collected nearly $37 billion for the disposal of used fuel from nuclear power plants but not disposed of the waste.

The lawsuit asks that the DOE stop collecting money to do a job it has neglected to do. The federal government has been collecting the disposal money since 1982, according to the lawsuit.

“It is kind of like paying a mortgage on a house that hasn’t been built yet,” said Tom Kauffman, spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute.

DTE Energy, which operates the Fermi 2 plant near Monroe, joined the lawsuit because Michigan rate payers have paid $567.6 million of the $37 billion, said company spokesman Guy Cerullo.

But consumers are not just paying the Department of Energy for work it isn’t doing. The nuclear operating companies have collected $1.3 billion in court by winning more than 70 lawsuits against the federal government for not handling the used nuclear fuel. The nuclear operating companies are using that money to store the used nuclear fuel onsite, Kauffman said.

"You are getting the double whammy," Kauffman said.

The U.S. Department of Energy referred comment to the U.S. Department of Justice, which didn't respond to requests for comment.

Michigan has three operating nuclear power plants. 

The fuel rods from those plants that must be stored are 12-feet high. Cerullo said all the used fuel from 25 years of operation at the Fermi Nuclear Plant would fit in a 50-by-50 foot wide, 40-foot deep fuel pool.

Yucca Mountain in Nevada was set up to be the repository of nuclear waste as early as 1987. The Obama Administration stopped that in 2010. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has fought against storing the waste in the state.

A commission was set up in 2010 and issued a report in 2012 that recommended dealing with the short term and long term solutions of disposing of the nuclear waste but came up with no specific destinations.

Radioactive waste can generally be stored and disposed of safely. The federal government has sponsored films of trains crashing into nuclear waste containers to show how it can be safely transferred.