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Nuclear waste piles up, and it's costing taxpayers billions

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Energy Department way behind schedule

The Department of Energy is more than a decade behind schedule in fulfilling its contractual obligations to remove and permanently dispose of highly radioactive spent fuel from the nation's 104 nuclear power reactors.

By 2020, taxpayers will have paid about $12 billion in court judgments against DOE for its failure to find a permanent storage site for highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel, the Congressional Budget Office estimated last year.

The contracts with nuclear power companies would require the government to begin collecting and storing waste no sooner than 2068, the groups reported. But even that seemingly distant date is unlikely to be enough time since by then there would be enough waste to fill more than two Yucca Mountains, the failed storage site that the Obama administration cancelled earlier this month. Some members of Congress are seeking to block the administration from defunding the project.

The Obama administration has signaled its support for expanding nuclear power by expanding federal loan guarantees. But much depends on the administration's new blue ribbon commission tasked with solving the long-term disposal of nuclear waste. The commission is meeting for the first time this week, but its first report is not expected for 18 months. Yet its task is made even more urgent by billions in pending court judgments now stacking up against US taxpayers, nuclear critics say.

"Given that after 35 years of searching, the U.S. has failed to license a single repository, it is reasonable to predict that the siting of two new repositories will take at least 50 years, if not 75 or 100 years," the groups said in their report. "Thus, there is a very real potential for defaults on the new irradiated nuclear fuel contracts signed in 2008-2009."

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