Maine Yankee's 12-acre Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation site in Wiscasset.
"Maine Yankee was very pleased to receive these funds, after 14 years of litigation," says Maine Yankee spokesman Eric Howes. Howes says that since the plant was decommissioned back in 1998, the energy company, the local community and the state of Maine have been waiting for the feds to come and take away the spent fuel that's being kept there to a permanent storage site.
They're still waiting. The $82 million payout represents the first of three lawsuits filed by Maine Yankee to force the federal government to pay for the cost of storing the fuel. He says this first payment covers the years from 1998 until 2003, while a second lawsuit - covering storage costs totalling about $35 million for the years until 2008 - is also underway.
"And we anticipate filing a third lawsuit toward the end of this year, for the years 2009 through 2012," Howes says. "We can only seek to recover damages for costs already incurred. So we anticipate filing litigation every several years to recover funds for our rate-payers."
Howes says the funds have been placed in a trust fund, and that Maine Yankee will file its proposal with the federal energy regulatory commission for how the funds could best be used to benefit ratepayers.
"I think it will be several months before we file, and then of course the process that FERC will go through after that," Howes says. "And as we mentioned earlier we have a second lawsuit that we're hoping the judge will rule on soon and hopefully in our favor, so there would be additional proceeds as well."
Maine public advocate Richard Davies says he expects a sizeable portion of the money will be used to make life easier for the state's 700,000 or so utility customers who have been paying - and are still paying - some of Maine Yankee's fuel storage costs.
"About half of Maine Yankee's ownership is by Maine utilities - Central Maine Power, Bangor Hydro, and Maine Public Service," Davies says. "About half of the money that is available after taxes will flow to the companies, and they in turn have an obligation under the law have those go to lower the costs to their customers."
Exactly how that money will flow back to customers will be further discussed at a meeting next week between Maine Yankee representatives and state officials, including Davies. Also present will be chair of the Maine Public Utilities Commission, Tom Welch, who says he's frustrated by the fact that 900 tons of nuclear waste still remain in storage in Wiscasset..
Tom Welch: "I think there's a high probability those will be there for a while. The federal Department of Energy just released its own vision of how to move forward with the national issue of waste from nuclear plants. To give you a sense of their time frame, the DOE report indicates that they envision the opening of the permanent fuel repository in 2048."
Tom Porter: "What are your thoughts on the federal government's handling of all of this?"
Tom Welch: "Well, it's been appalling. What really prompted the lawsuits was that there's been a very specific obligation in the law that the federal government pretty much ignored for many years."
But Welch says now that the federal government is handing out sizeable chunks of money because of the storage issue, he hopes Congress will be inspired to act more quickly in finding a permanent site for the 60 canisters of nuclear waste currently encased in concrete on the shores of the Sheepscot River.
Photo courtesy of Maine Yankee.