In its final days, and with no fanfare, the Bush Administration signed 21 contracts with nuclear power companies promising to store high level radioactive waste from plants that had not yet been built, even though no federal repository for such waste exists, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER). At least one of the contracts is dated January 22, 2009 -- two days after President Barack Obama had been sworn into office.
The contracts were made public by the IEER during a press conference today, on the eve of tomorrow's first meeting of President Obama's "Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future."
"We need to slow down" and solve the nuclear waste problem "before building more nuclear power plants," said IEER president, Arjun Makhijani. "This is a chess game and it's been played like a horse race."
Taxpayers had already covered $565 million in awards to nuclear power companies from law suits after the government failed to dispose of existing nuclear waste, according to IEER documents. That's on top of another $790 million in pending contract damage fees in other similar cases. The DOE has estimated that by 2020 the federal government will be liable for over $12 billion in damages, according to IEER figures, with a total cost of $50 billion including years beyond 2020.
The Department of Justice has spent $150 million so far litigating these claims.
Asked about President Obama's recent commitment to provide federal loan guarantees for building two new nuclear power plants in Georgia, Makhijani said he disagreed with the decision: "[Candidate Obama] said he wouldn't build new reactors until the problems of safety and long term storage were solved," said Makhijani. "Clearly, that hasn't happened yet."
New Nuclear Waste Principles
Organizers of the press conference also used the opportunity to unveil a statement of principles to guide nuclear waste policy in the United States. Some 170 organizations (including NRDC) in all 50 states have endorsed the guidelines. Key principles include:
- Require a low-density, open-frame layout for fuel pools.
- Establish hardened on-site storage (HOSS).
- Protect fuel pools.
- Require periodic review of HOSS facilities and fuel pools.
- Dedicate funding to local and state governments to independently monitor the sites.
- Prohibit reprocessing
All the contracts, and background material, can be found at the IEER Website, located here.
A 2008 "Energy Fact Sheet" from the Obama-Biden campaign (pdf) contains the statement to which Makhijani referred (page 6, bottom).
Signature from January 22, 2009 contract (pdf)