Congress chose the site in 1987 as the country’s sole permanent nuclear repository. | AP Photo
Doing nothing often has a cost — and when it comes to storing the nation’s nuclear waste, the price is $38 billion and rising.
That’s just the low-ball estimate for how much taxpayers will wind up spending because of the government’s decades of dithering about how to handle the radioactive leftovers sitting at dozens of sites in 38 states. The final price will be higher unless the government starts collecting the waste by 2020, which almost nobody who tracks the issue expects.
The first $15 billion is what the government spent on a controversial nuclear waste repository at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain until the Obama administration scrapped the project. The other $23 billion is the Energy Department’s estimate of the damages the government will have to pay to nuclear power utilities, which for the past 30 years have paid a fee to DOE on the promise that the feds would begin collecting their waste in 1998.
Industry argues that the damages are closer to $50 billion — which raises the bottom line to $65 billion including the money spent on Yucca.
The cost of the refunds is little known to the public, but it’s such a huge liability that DOE tracks the figure closely. The government is still fighting the utilities’ claims in court, but utilities have been racking up a string of wins.
The costs of inaction don’t just include dollars. The lack of a final resting place for the waste means that each nuclear plant has to stockpile its own. Thousands of tons of waste are stranded at sites around the country, including at plants that have shut down.