Ever since 1983, the Energy Department has been collecting fees paid for by Americans who use nuclear-generated electricity. The tenth-of-a-cent charge per each kilowatt-hour of electricity adds up to about $750 million a year, earmarked to pay for a program disposing of these power plants' nuclear waste. Only, uh, that program doesn't actually exist, so a federal appeals court ruled yesterday that the DOE must stop collecting the fees, the New York Times reports. The waste was to be disposed of at the Yucca Mountain repository, but the Obama administration halted work on the facility in 2010, Politico reports.
"Nuclear utilities and their consumers have paid more than $30 billion since the early 1980s for the construction of a nuclear-waste repository," says the executive director of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, which filed the lawsuit over the fees. "These consumers have upheld their end of the deal, but unfortunately all they have to show for their investment is a hole in the Nevada desert." The judge agreed, saying it's "quite unfair to force petitioners to pay fees for a hypothetical option." About $7 billion collected had already been spent, largely on the Yucca project, and about $30 billion remains; the fees could be reinstated once the DOE figures out how to deal with the nuclear waste. The Times notes the DOE's timeline now has it slated to open a repository by 2048. (Read more nuclear waste stories.)