Nuclear-Waste Disposal Making Federal Budget Sick

Congress has spent the money set aside on other things

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 9, 2011 11:24 AM CDT

(Newser) – Nuclear-waste disposal isn’t just an environmental issue anymore—it’s a budgetary one. The Wall Street Journal today takes a look at the nation’s dysfunctional non-system for disposing of nuclear waste, and the story ain’t pretty. Nuclear sites are currently holding some 65,000 metric tons of spent fuel, waiting for the federal government to dispose of it as promised, in an arrangement that was supposed to begin in 1998—and suing the government for not doing so yet. That’s because the project’s funding arrangement is “fundamentally broken,” one expert explains.

Nuclear waste disposal is supposed to be funded by a fee that nuclear sites pay the government. But the government has been treating that fee like a tax, depositing it into the general coffers and using the money as it pleases. “It sounds like there’s a piggy bank and there’s all this money that is available,” says one law professor. “But there isn’t. Congress has spent it on other things.” So now the government has basically created a $25 billion IOU—that's the amount that should be in the fund. And it expects to pay $16.2 billion in legal judgments to compensate nuclear utilities for their post-1998 storage costs.

A worker drives a cart through a tunnel inside the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant 2,150 feet below the surface near Carlsbad, NM, in this April 8, 1998 file photo.
A worker drives a cart through a tunnel inside the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant 2,150 feet below the surface near Carlsbad, NM, in this April 8, 1998 file photo.   (AP Photo/Eric Draper)
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