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Wednesday, February 3, 2010 - 1:36pm

Commissioners Want Money Back

A decades-long effort to develop a permanent federal site for nuclear waste storage has failed. But the project still has cost billions of dollars, and members of the Georgia Public Service Commission want the federal government to refund it.

As required by federal law, utility companies that operate nuclear reactors in the U.S. -- and therefore consumers -- have paid about $30 billion dollars into a trust fund that was supposed to help pay for the development of a permanent storage site for nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

But the site was never built, and now the Obama administration is axing the project. Obama has eliminated federal funding for Yucca Mountain, and the U.S. Department of Energy is suspending its application for a license to construct the disposal site there.

Bobby Baker, a PSC commissioner, says the Yucca trust fund has cost Georgia utility companies, and ultimately their ratepayers, $1.1 billion. The PSC on Tuesday approved a motion asking that the money be refunded.

"It's just been sucking billions of dollars into this bureaucratic rathole in the middle of the desert and taxpayers are getting nothing," he says.

It's unclear what will happen to the money or how the government will handle permanent waste, and Baker says he does not expect the PSC's vote to bring in a big check any time soon, if at all. The U.S. Department of Energy has appointed a commission to study alternative solutions.

The decision to scrap Yucca Mountain follows years of delays and opposition from environmental groups and lawmakers such as U.S. Senator Harry Reid, a powerful Democrat from Nevada who serves as the Senate majority leader.

Yucca Mountain was supposed to open in 1998, but efforts were stalled by opponents. Nuclear power plants are currently storing spent nuclear fuel on their individual properties. The payments into the nuclear waste trust fund started in 1982.

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