Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Company v. The United States: A federal court has awarded $235.4 million in damages to the owners of three decommissioned nuclear power plants in New England, including Connecticut Yankee in Haddam Neck, Conn., to reimburse the companies for the costs of storing spent nuclear fuel.
The decision is the second judgment against the U.S. government for failing to dispose of the nuclear waste from the plants.
Judge James Merrow, of the Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., issued the ruling in November in favor of Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Co., Maine Yankee Atomic Power Co. and Yankee Atomic Electric Co. in Rowe, Mass.
The plants have been storing spent fuel on site while waiting for the federal government to fulfill its promise of building a national repository for high-level nuclear waste.
The plants already received a $160 million payment, in February of this year, to compensate them for storage from 1998 to 2002. The new award covers the time frame of 2003 to 2008. A third lawsuit covering 2009 to 2012 is pending.
“We are very pleased to have been awarded an additional $235.4 million in costs resulting from the Department of Energy’s failure to honor its contractual obligations to begin removing spent nuclear fuel… from our three sites beginning in 1998,” Wayne Norton, president of Connecticut Yankee, said in a statement. “We urge the federal government to fulfill its commitment to remove this material from our sites without further delay and to avoid filing a costly appeal that would only prolong the legal process and adversely affect ratepayers and taxpayers.”
A spokesman for the three companies explained that the ongoing litigation between the three companies and the Department of Energy is being conducted in phases, as an earlier U.S. federal appeals court decision ruled that utility companies cannot receive damages awards for costs they have not yet been incurred. As such, the three companies have, and expect to continue, to litigate with the Department of Energy every several years to request damages for costs incurred by their ratepayers.
It is expected that the damages received by the companies will in turn be paid back to ratepayers.
Under the ruling, Connecticut Yankee will see the largest share, $126.3 million, followed by $73.3 million for Yankee Rowe and $35.7 million for Maine Yankee.
The current annual cost to store the spent nuclear fuel is approximately $7 million to $11 million per site. However, Norton claims that the cost may well increase as regulations evolve and potentially impose additional requirements on the companies.
Back in 1996, the Connecticut Yankee nuclear power plant in Haddam Neck was shut down because it was too costly to keep operating. Dangerous radiation had leaked from the plant in 1978 and again in 1989, which contributed to the decision.
Under a contract that was tied to the operation of the plant, the federal government was supposed to take possession of the spent nuclear fuel at the site starting in 1998, but never did. As a result, the company paid more than $10 million a year to keep the materials secure.
The federal Department of Energy had attempted to build a repository to permanently store the waste in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, but efforts to remove and store the Connecticut Yankee fuel rods and other waste there didn’t materialize. In a lawsuit filed in 1998, the Connecticut plant owner accused the federal government of being in breach of its contract to remove the materials from the state. The suit was joined by the owners of the Maine and Massachusetts nuclear plants.•