Feds Don’t Challenge Ruling Favoring SMUD

By Published On: August 28, 2014

A deadline for the U.S. Department of Energy to appeal a $53 million ruling against it for not building a radioactive waste site came and went this month. “The DOE did not appeal,” said Sacramento Municipal Utility District spokesperson Chris Capra. The muni now is poised to receive $53.1 million under a June 20 ruling issued by the U.S. Appeals Court. The muni sued the U.S. government in 1998 for the return of funds it contributed towards a nuclear waste disposal facility the DOE promised but never built. The parties signed a contract in 1983, under which the Sacramento muni agreed to pay $40 million into a nuclear waste fund that was to take spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste from the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant. It was operated from April 1975 until June 1989, when it was shut down by a public vote. SMUD filed a $76.6 million lawsuit against the federal government in 1998 for failing to live up to its end of the agreement. The Appeals Court ruled that the utility was entitled to the $53 million it spent cleaning up nuclear fuel and waste at Rancho Seco from 1992 to 2003. The U.S. government had until Aug. 5—which was 45 days from the Appeals Court ruling—to seek a re-hearing in the case. The Department has until Sept. 20 to seek a judicial review from the U.S. Supreme Court. If it decides to seek a judicial review, the judgment will be stayed. But if not, the muni expects to accept the millions owed it within six months, according to Laura Lewis, the muni’s general counsel. SMUD ultimately found a place to dispose Rancho Seco’s waste last year. In September 2013, the muni paid a Texas company almost $20.5 million to dispose of radioactive waste that had been housed at the plant since the 1980s. During the plant’s decommissioning, its low-level radioactive waste was sent to Utah for disposal. But since no suitable disposal facility was available for Class B and Class C low-level radioactive material, those wastes were packaged for future shipment and disposal and then stored at the nuclear plant, located 25 miles southeast of downtown Sacramento, until Texas-based Waste Control Specialists was hired about a year ago to move the material to West Texas for disposal.

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