Nuclear Trash Fee 'Rebate' Would Be At Public's Risk

By Marlene Lang


We all know trash ain't cheap.  

Electricity users have long paid a "garbage fee" on that portion of their power produced by nuclear reactors – a fee of one tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour. The pennies go into the Nuclear Waste Fund. Since the fund was set up in 1982, about $30 billion has accumulated. 

The money has gone unused as politicians and scientists debate what is the best the location for a national dump where the radioactive waste will rest for thousands of years. 

Congress in 2002 designated Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the nation's – and possibly, the world's – nuclear waste repository site. But not every one thought the desert outside of Las Vegas was such a great location. Then-governor of Nevada Kenny Quinn vetoed Congress and the power-volley continues. 

Obama cut Yucca Mountain out of the budget and in response, a group of Republicans has sponsored a bill that would give the Nuclear Waste Fund back to the utilities and customers, if Yucca is not built and soon. 


Sen. LIndsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced the bill. He represents a state which, alongside Illinois, leads the nation in its number of nuclear plants. His constituents have contributed nearly $1.2 billion to the Nuclear Waste Fund. 

The bill is titled the "Rebating America's Deposits Act." These days, "rebate" is a powerful word, and especially so when couched with other verbiage that implies the government is somehow hoarding your money and won't give it back. Thank goodness, heros like Graham and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) want to get your money back. 

But wait: There was a pressing reason the fund was set up. What will happen if there is no money to bury the waste, once a plan is agreed upon? 

Graham was quoted in the media last week saying, "No one should be required to pay for an empty hole in the desert." That's evocative language. Perhaps if nuclear industry boosters had listened to all the voices, before the digging of the desert hole, and we wouldn't be in this billion-dollar fix. 

Now, South Carolina really needs that nuke dump in the desert. Graham's state isn't just a nuclear power state; thousands are employed in the nuclear weapons industry there, as well. The state is busy cleaning up the Savannah River with $1.6 billion federal dollars from the Obama budget. Seems the gigantic nuclear weapons complex left behind quite a toxic mess when it quit making nukes in 1991.

Graham and other advocates of the nuclear industry say we can't just abandon the Yucca Mountain site after two decades of studies, and having spent $13 billion from the Nuclear Waste Fund there. 

He called Obama's cutting off of funds a "political" move. That's an worn out jab, one that ignores some very valid science that suggests Yucca is not as ideal as presented by government and nuclear industry studies. How can either give a fair assessment? Our federal government is facing an long train of lawsuits for its failure to provide a solution for radioactive waste disposal. Right now most of the waste is stacking up outside the power plants. Graham's bill would allow some of the disposal fund to pay for "upgrades" for that on site storage – the stuff in the backyards of South Carolinians. 

Meanwhile, he and cronies are calling for Obama to give the OK for Yuccca Mountain, or to immediately come up with another solution for the long-term (at least 10,000 years) geological burial of high-level radioactive waste. Graham and GOP co-sponsors of the bill demand a finger-snap solution, one that no one else in the world has found in half a century. The legislation calls for Yucca to be waste-ready, as scheduled, by 2017. 

The deceitful naming of the bill and talk of "Rebating America's Deposits" is a cynical use of hardship and misfortune to hold a political gun to the president's head. It is shameful to dangle the carrot of a "rebate" from a fund that no one has any business touching, for the sake of soliciting a quick solution to a deadly problem. 

Obama de-funded the Yucca project – for now – because the science is still not solid. How can we be certain the site will be safe for 10,000 years? The original call from the academy of scientists was for 100,000 years of safe burial. We are looking at potentially poisoning future generations if this is not done right.

Mr. Graham and his fellow nuclear industry advocates may have to put on hold their dreams of a nuclear renaissance. 


This column is posted with permission from the SouthtownStar, Tinley Park, Ill., part of the Sun-Times News Group.