This group brings together the best thinkers on energy and climate. Join us for smart, insightful posts and conversations about where the energy industry is and where it is going.


Yucca Mountain and Vermont: Scofflaws in High Places

Meredith Angwin's picture
Carnot Communications

Former project manager at Electric Power Research Institute. Chemist, writer, grandmother, and proponent of nuclear energy.

  • Member since 2018
  • 81 items added with 27,590 views
  • Aug 21, 2013

Yucca Mountain

Last week saw two court decisions that favored the nuclear industry. Both were about groups (the Vermont legislature, the NRC) that had taken actions that were illegal for them to take.

The first court decision was the appeals court victory for Vermont Yankee. The Vermont legislature cannot regulate nuclear safety.  This decision was discussed in my post Vermont Yankee Wins in Appeals Court.

The second decision was a Writ of Mandamus about Yucca Mountain. With this Writ, a federal Court required the NRC to continue the license review process for the Yucca Mountain repository.  Billions of dollars have been spent on building this repository for high-level nuclear  waste in Nevada. However, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada is determined to keep the repository from opening.  So far, he has managed keep it closed.

Jaczko in Brattleboro, 2010

Former NRC Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko was appointed to his NRC position in order to please Senator Reid.  As Commissioner, Jaczko stopped the Yucca Mountain license review process when it was nearly complete.

Jaczko had no legal right to stop the review process, but he did it anyway.  Jaczko also refused to release the Safety Evaluation Reports which were due to be released to the public.

Winning the Lawsuit

 A consortium of groups brought a lawsuit against the NRC to force them to continue the Yucca Mountain review; the plaintiffs included the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.  They won. This week, the Circuit Court in the District of Columbia ruled in their favor, issuing the Writ on August 13.

The Wall Street Journal described the legal outcome in  Problems with Authority: Lawless Regulators and the White House earn a Judicial Rebuke.  A quote:  In a  major rebuke on Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an unusual writ of mandamus, which is a direct judicial order compelling the government to fulfill a legal obligation. This “extraordinary remedy”(was taken in a case that)…”raises significant questions about the scope of the Executive’s authority to disregard federal statutes.”

The Lawsuit Explained

ANS Nuclear Café has an excellent review of the case, written by one of the petitioners: Court Finally Rules on Yucca Mountain NRC License Review, by Robert L. Ferguson. Ferguson has also written a book on the subject.  Also, this video clip is short but clear.

And Yet, Scofflaws Are Still Scofflaws

Writ of Mandamus or no Writ of Mandamus, it doesn’t look as if the license review will continue. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, Yucca Mountain’s chief foe, has kept the funding for the review at zero.   As Senator Reid said: “With no disrespect to the court, this decision means nothing,”

Well, to me, that sounds just a little disrespectful of the court.

The Reid quote comes from the Las Vegas Review Journal article: Federal court order NRC to restart licensing process for Yucca Mountain. The video clip above is from the same article. In the video, you can see Reid make a similar statement about the meaninglessness of the court decision.  You can also see Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz whine  about lack of funding for the license review process.

The Money is There, If They Want It

Lack of funding?  Oh Puh-leeze.

Moniz talking about “lack of funding” (a lack arranged by Harry Reid) is pretty funny, because the utilities pay $800 million dollars a year into the Nuclear Waste fund. They pay a tenth of a cent to the fund for every kilowatt-hour generated by nuclear energy.  This fund is supposed to provide a repository for spent nuclear fuel. In other words, they pay almost a billion dollars a year, and the fund has been growing for about thirty years.

While $10 billion was paid from this fund to develop Yucca Mountain, more than $20 billion remains in the fund. (Unspent balance of $25 billion according to Wikipedia.) In other words, if some of the money already paid by utilities..say, maybe $20 million of the $20 billion, was freed for the license process expenses, the license process could go ahead.

It might take a small amount of maneuvering to free this money from one federal pocket to another. But the government is good at moving money, when it wants to. (Sometimes it moves money to non-existent pockets, but let’s not get into that.)  Apparently, the government doesn’t want to move this money or use it.  So much for the court case, I guess.

Vermont and Yucca Mountain

U.S. Constitution
First page

Here in Vermont, we also have scofflaws in high places.  Last week, Vermont legislators were also given clear notice by the courts that they were breaking the law (attempting to regulate issues that are regulated at the federal level) and pretty close to violating the Constitution (though the commerce issue was not “ripe”).

Will our legislators and governor find a way to ignore the courts and go on their merry way against Vermont Yankee? Nevada seems to be doing this. I know the situations are quite different.  Still,  I fear our legislators will use some methodology that will be illegal, but perhaps not stoppable in time, even by injunctions.

I hope not.  I think not.  I hope the rule of  law will prevail.

I’m basically an optimist.

Meredith Angwin's picture
Thank Meredith for the Post!
Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.
More posts from this member
Spell checking: Press the CTRL or COMMAND key then click on the underlined misspelled word.
James Van Damme's picture
James Van Damme on Aug 23, 2013

I’ve been to Yucca Mountain’s back yard, and you weren’t there. To me it seemed like the perfect place to put this stuff. Let the Feds actually finish their assessment and we’ll find out whether or not your fears are irrational. Or is that what you’re really afraid of?

A. G. Gelbert's picture
A. G. Gelbert on Aug 23, 2013

Vermonters overwhelmingly want Entergy’s poison pig nuclear power plant outta here!

What the crooked courts failed to do will be done soon. All we have to do is back Senator Sanders’ legistive efforts to repeal Price-Anderson (the massive nuclear power plant government insurance backing subsidy).

Without Price-Anderson, never mind all the other government swag these expensive and aging time bombs are stealing from the public welfare, their energy would be priced out of the market.

Nuclear power plants cannot sell power (unsubsiduzed) for less than 20 cents a kwh (or more). Solar, wind,  geothermal and biogas are renewable, non-toxic, non-poisonous and are all under 10 cents a kwh (unsubsidized).

Regradless of the bought and paid for courts, nuclear, like fossil fuel energy, is a dead man walking.

Bill Woods's picture
Bill Woods on Aug 24, 2013

“… Price-Anderson (the massive nuclear power plant government insurance backing subsidy).”

According to the US government, “… the projected annual subsidy is about $600,000 per reactor as well.”

With 100 reactors generating about 800 billion kW-h per year, that’s a subsidy of about 0.01 cents/kW-h.

And since the NRC charges reactors $4.8 million per year in licensing fees, it looks like the government is getting a pretty good deal. 
George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on Aug 24, 2013

umm well the waste would be stored 1000 feet under ground, under a mountain, in shielded containment, within shielded containment.

So yes I would live right next to that site because unlike you I am not ignorant.

A. G. Gelbert's picture
A. G. Gelbert on Aug 24, 2013

If you want pay to store poison for a few thousand years, that’s your ignorance and math challenged brain’s failing, not anybody else’s.

I prefer cost effective and non-poisonous renewable energy. You would too if you were concerned for future generations.

But obviously, for you and people like you, it’s all about profit from government babying nuclear subsidies from mining to storage of used fuel rods and the devil taked the hindmost.

Greed isn’t just bad, it’s lethal to Homo sapiens. Grow up! Your attitude is helping to destroy civilization.

A. G. Gelbert's picture
A. G. Gelbert on Aug 24, 2013

I think Entergy’s (and all other nuclear power plant operator’s headquarters) corporate headquarters is the proper place for used fuel rod storage. This is not a joke. I am dead serious.

Why? Because they will be forced to pay for secure storge, not we-the-people. All nuclear power plant operators have private profits to investors from stock and dividends. Why should we-the-people pay for corporate costs of storing nuclear poison?

I will not be party to financing your profits. If you really believe in free enterprise, you will agree that the the U.S. Government should not be saddled with nuclear poison storage costs.

But, if you are just defending your “enlightened self interest”, then you are being disingenuous.


Paul O's picture
Paul O on Aug 25, 2013

Boy You are really spoilling for a fight aren’t you?

If you can show us what cost effective, non poisonous renewable is going to provide us with all the power you claim, and how it will do it, please go right ahead and do so. Be prepared to be specific, and show some proof.

Bear in mind that no one is going to be fooled by any proofless  hype from pro renewables websites.

Your problem is that you are not capable of thinking past the dogma and propoaganda you’re  swallowing hook, line, and sinker from unrealistic blind sighted pre-renewables websites.


Go back and do some research, and lets tackle this fake renewables future you fantasize about. Come back with some facts, and fewer insults about other people’s brains. Come back with some points for a real debate on energy, but don’t think that insults and self-righteous verbage would be allowed to pass uncountered.

Meredith Angwin's picture
Meredith Angwin on Aug 25, 2013

It would have been nice if you had actually read my post instead of doing a one-size-fits-all anti-nuclear comment. 

All nuclear power plant operators have contributed one tenth of a cent per kilowatt hour to a fund for storage of nuclear waste.  The fund built Yucca Mountain (ten billion dollars) and still has 25 billion dollars in it.  The fund is growing at about $800 million per year.

Far from the “U.S. Government being saddled with” storage costs for spent fuel for power reactors, the U.S. Government has billions of dollars for this purpose—from the power plant operators.  Illegally, the government is not spending this money to store the fuel. 

This information is in my post, along with a link to Wikipedia on the amount of money in the fund.  

Please read my post before your next reply.  Thank you. 

Meredith Angwin's picture
Meredith Angwin on Aug 25, 2013

I live in Vermont and I am in favor of continued operation of Vermont Yankee.  Opinion polls (many of them, over the years) show Vermonters evenly divided between people who favor Yankee’s continued operation, and people who oppose it.

However, the opposition has more vigils, press releases, and giant puppets than the supporters.  This does not prove that they are in the majority. 

A. G. Gelbert's picture
A. G. Gelbert on Aug 25, 2013

“All nuclear power plant operators have contributed one tenth of a cent per kilowatt hour to a fund for storage of nuclear waste. “

I’m amazed that you believe a for profit corporation should do anything but pay 100% of all the costs incurred (present and future fuel rod life cycle costs)  to generate electrity from nuclear fision.

Why should congress baby nuclear power plant operators with, for example, the Price-Anderson Insurance guarantees? If nuclear was owned by the Federal government it would be different but it’s not. They even charge ridiculous amounts for the radoisotopes (e,g, Technetium-99) used in cardiac medicine.

This is what Senator Sanders of Vermont says about nuclear sourced electrical power.

Sen. Sanders is one of the most vocal critics of continuing government subsidies and special tax breaks for the nuclear industry, and has called for an end to the Price-Anderson government liability insurance for nuclear reactors. Following the disaster in Fukushima, Sen. Sanders pressed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to swiftly adopt safety reforms recommended by a special task force of senior NRC staff.

I am, like him, supportive of what is the cheapest and most sustainable source for our electrical power.

Nuclear never would have gotten off the ground without the massive subsidies that have never been provided for renewable energy. As a Vermonter you should support wind and solar now simply because they are cheaper in addition to being sustainable.

We will never have to store used PV panels in a concrete lined bunker costing millions to build because they are, like wind turbines, totally non-polluting and recyclable. And both wind and PV already have 30 year life cycles guaranteeing no increased electrical costs from the present 6 to 14 cents a kwh (most of it is below 10 cents a kwh now) for the entire period. You cannot say that for nuclear.

And as to all that money the nuclear power operators have had deducted for future costs, it’s still not enough to cover a 20 year decommisiioning process and you know it. The nuclear power operators are the ones that owe we-the-people for future costs they have no intention of paying.

If you disagree, just get an estimate of the 20 year decommisioning cost of San Onofre. Now add 100 years of security and storage for used nuclear fuel rods. It’s an accounting nigthmare.

Unless you have income presently from the nuclear industry or relatives benefiting from working at the Entergy Yankee plant, you have no reason to support this costly and dangerous energy source.

I’m sure Nuclear engineer Arnie Gunderson would agree.  


Paul O's picture
Paul O on Aug 25, 2013

Quote..I’m amazed that you believe a for profit corporation should do anything but pay 100% of all the costs incurred (present and future fuel rod life cycle costs)  to generate electrity from nuclear fision.”

OH Wow!

She said no such thing. Why do you even come here if you won’t read the post?

She is saying that the Utilities have paid (as required by law) for the storage already. She is saying that the Government continues to take money earmarked for storage from them till today. That’s it.

Merredith has made no comment or insinuation that the Nuclear Utilities should not pay. She is merely saying that the Government should not continue to delay or circumvent the law for stortage of used fuel as they continue to recieve money earmarked for that self-same purpose.

Anybody who is not a retarded idiot looking for a fight would understand that the Government cannot ilegally collect money dedicated to a pupose, and then refuse to fulfill that purpose as per the law.

Obviously you are ignorant and unwilling to listen or learn or contribute useful opinion. You have not shown even  a single  iota of good will, nor a  desire, nor willingness to debate or comment graciously, while hearing other people’s opinions.

Your only purpose for coming hereitb seems, is to vomit out your vile and disrespectful self-righteous  ignorance all over the pages of this site.

George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on Aug 25, 2013

Well you obviously are not aware that there exists a technology known as the fast neutron reactor which runs on nuclear waste and results a waste with half life on the order of decades rather than centuries. Along with burning waste other attributes of iterations of this reactor design include:

non proliferable and closed fuel cycle

the physical inability to mmeltdown

sound too good to be true? Well it’s not. Nonetheless this obviates the need to store waste at Yucca for 1000 years which really isn’t an issue in the first place as Yucca is the most studied piece of real-estate on the planet and all government reports on the matter indicate that it can safely store waste for the term indicated.

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »