2013-02-06 / Front Page

Maine Yankee collects $81M in waste suit

Cash "to benefit ratepayers" in Wiscasset
The Times Record

WISCASSET

The federal government has reimbursed Maine Yankee Atomic Power Company $81.7 million in damages.

Eric Howes, public and government affairs director for Maine Yankee, made the announcement Wednesday. 


Wednesday’s announcement follows the federal government’s decision not to appeal a U.S. Court of Appeals judgment from May 18, 2012 as the deades-long legal fight over nuclear waste continues. 


The federal government was obligated by statute and by contract to begin removing spent nuclear fuel from the closed Maine Yankee plant in 1998, Howes said. 


That still hasn’t been done, and the nuclear waste remains in dry storage at the Maine Yankee site.


The atomic waste at Maine Yankee is graded “greater than Class C,” making it the most hazardous of low-level radioactive waste, he said.


As such, Maine Yankee’s spent fuel is “dangerous to an inadvertent intruder beyond 500 years, and must be disposed in geologic repository unless alternate method proposed by (the U.S. Department of Energy) and approved by (the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission).”


“This is only the first case, which takes us through 2002,” Howes said. “We’re seeking $35 million more for 2002 through 2008.”


Maine Yankee’s sum is part of a settlement that will also pay $39.7 million to Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Company and $38.3 million to Yankee Atomic.


The three companies anticipate that they will file a third round of damages claims by the end of 2013. 


Howes said that Maine Yankee, based upon existing regulatory agreements, will use the funds remaining after the payment of federal and state taxes “to the benefit of ratepayers.”


The three companies plan to make filings with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that will detail their approach for the best way to use the proceeds, he said.


Wiscasset residents, eventually, stand to benefit.


“Over time,” Howes said, “it will affect Wiscasset’s electric bills. Ratepayers and electric customers are basically the same. It’s too early to say how individual electricity customers will benefit. It’s fairly complex. That will play out.”


The spent fuel, meanwhile, will remain in Wiscasset until further notice.


“We don’t know when the federal government will remove the fuel,” Howes said. “The fuel will eventually be removed from Maine Yankee and there will be a second decommissioning.”


Wayne Norton, chief nuclear officer at Maine Yankee, expressed satisfaction with the government’s decision not to make further appeals.


“We are very pleased that after 14 years of litigation the three companies have recovered for our ratepayers nearly $160 million in costs resulting from the Department of Energy’s failure to remove spent nuclear fuel and Greater than Class C waste from our three sites,” Norton said. These funds, and additional damages claims we hope to recover in the future, will all benefit our ratepayers.


“We intend to make filings at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in the next several months to establish the process by which the litigation proceeds are credited to the ratepayers.”


The current annual cost to operate the three Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installations is approximately $7 to $11 million per site, Howes said. However, that annual cost could well increase as regulations evolve and potentially impose additional requirements on the companies.


Howes explained that Maine Yankee’s award was much greater than the amount going to the other two companies because Maine Yankee built its storage facility first.


The companies are currently seeking approximately $247 million in additional damages in a second round of cases filed in 2007 that have yet to be decided. 


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