A settlement announced this week between the U.S. Justice Department and one of the nation's largest utilities could help Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. recoup millions of dollars spent since the mid-1990s to store highly radioactive decayed fuel from Davis-Besse's reactor core outside the Ottawa County nuclear plant.
The settlement calls for the government to reimburse Exelon Generation Co., of Chicago, for costs associated with that utility's removal, drainage, and dry-cask storage of spent fuel.
The agreement is the first since the U.S. Supreme Court six years ago upheld a federal circuit court's 1997 ruling that the government had a contractual obligation to start taking the waste.
Since the Supreme Court ruling, 66 cases that sought damages were filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, including one in January in which FirstEnergy joined the Arizona Public Service Co. and others.
FirstEnergy officials declined yesterday to talk about their company's claim on the grounds that is pending litigation.
In December, 1998, within a week of the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the lower court's ruling, a FirstEnergy spokesman said the utility would seek $8 million to $10 million in compensation. He also said it may seek $10 million for storage at a nuclear complex west of Pittsburgh.
Spent nuclear fuel typically is stored inside pools. But few, if any, of those pools are large enough to hold all the reactor-core waste removed during a plant's projected 40-to-60-year lifespan.
Spent fuel is the only material in civilian hands that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission classifies as high-level radioactive waste.Space in those pools emerged as an issue because plants were built on the assumption that the government would open a national dump before 1998.
Although Nevada's Yucca Mountain has been identified by Congress as the sole site to consider, several more years of study and billions of additional dollars potentially are needed to develop it.
This week's agreement leaves open the possibility that utilities can continue to recoup storage costs until the waste is hauled away.
Richard Wilkins, FirstEnergy spokesman, agreed the Exelon settlement is a legal precedent that caught the attention of FirstEnergy's lawyers. He said the company did not want him to elaborate.
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