IMAGE: YUCCA MOUNTAIN TUNNEL
Joe Cavaretta  /  AP file
The planned Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository includes this tunnel entrance, seen during construction in 2002.
updated 10/4/2006 3:16:13 PM ET 2006-10-04T19:16:13

Three closed nuclear power plants have been awarded $143 million because the federal government has failed to take their used reactor fuel rods to a planned national repository.

The award by the U.S. Federal Court of Claims settles a long-standing legal fight waged by operators of the three reactors in Maine, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

It also could foreshadow a series of additional financial awards to operators of reactors nationwide who have argued the federal government broke contractual agreements that promised the waste would be taken by 1998.

The government missed the 1998 deadline because it doesn’t have any place to put the spent fuel. A proposed central repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada is way behind schedule in being completed.

Once expected to open in 2010, the Yucca waste site has yet to received a federal license and is not likely to be completed — if licensed — by 2018 at the earliest.

The award, granted by Court of Claims Judge James Merow on Saturday, was unsealed Wednesday.

It gives $32.9 million in damages to Yankee Atomic Electric Co., operator of the Yankee Rowe reactor in Massachusetts; $34.1 million to Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Co., operator of Connecticut Yankee reactor; and $75.8 million to Maine Yankee Atomic Power Co.; operator of the Maine Yankee reactor.

The companies had asked for $177 million.

Michael Thomas, vice president and chief financial officer of the three Yankee companies, said that while the monetary award is “very positive ... (it) does not solve the problem of used nuclear fuel remaining at the plant sites.”

“We hope this ruling will spur the U.S. Department of Energy to begin fulfilling its obligation,” said Thomas.

Thomas said he expects the government to appeal the judge’s decision. Eventually, the money would be used to reimburse ratepayers for some of the three plants’ decommissioning costs, he said.

The three reactors, operated by the Yankee companies, are each owned by up to eight New England utilities.

There was no immediate comment from the Energy Department on the issue.

The used reactor fuel remains in aboveground, dry cask storage at the sites near Wiscasset, Maine; Rowe, Mass.; and Haddam, Conn. Yankee Rowe was shut down in 1992 and the other two reactors in 1997.

Federal courts previously have ruled that the Energy Department was contractually obligated to begin taking used reactor fuel from commercial power plants by 1998. But the ruling was the first finding of a significant financial settlement.

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