By Atlanta Business Chronicle

The Obama administrationâ¿¿s decision to abandon plans for a permanent nuclear waste repository has cost Georgia electric ratepayers at least $586 million, Georgia Public Service Commission Chairman Stan Wise said Tuesday.

Thatâ¿¿s how much Georgia customers had paid into the federal Nuclear Waste Fund by 2007, only to have the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) halt work at the Yucca Mountain site in the Nevada desert.

⿿Seven billion dollars collected [nationally] from ratepayers was spent on an 8,000-page license application and a tunnel,⿝ Wise told members of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America⿿s Nuclear Future at a hearing in downtown Atlanta. ⿿The nuclear waste program is at an impasse.⿝

Wiseâ¿¿s remarks came during a daylong forum called by the commission to gather public input on a draft report the panel released in July.

The reportâ¿¿s recommendations drew criticism from both supporters and critics of nuclear energy.

Conceding that Americaâ¿¿s strategy for dealing with a growing backlog of nuclear waste is at a standstill, the report calls for creating a new organization with the authority to make better use of the money ratepayers have been paying for years to support nuclear waste management.

While supporting efforts to develop one or more permanent disposal sites, the report also recommends consolidating nuclear wastes now scattered at plants across the country at one or more interim storage facilities.

That drew fire from the chairman of the Sierra Club chapter in South Carolina, a state likely to be considered for interim storage because it is home to the Savannah River Site, a former nuclear weapons plant across the Savannah River from Georgia.

⿿This ⿿interim⿿ idea could very easily become permanent,⿝ Susan Corbett said. ⿿We⿿re very skeptical that any waste coming here now will ever leave.⿝

But Paula Marino, vice president of engineering at Southern Nuclear Operating Co., said parent Southern Co. (NYSE: SO) supports building interim storage sites in locations that are scientifically suitable for nuclear waste storage.

The one topic nuclear proponents and opponents found common ground on was in calling on the federal government to reconsider its abandonment of Yucca Mountain. The commission, formed by the DOE at the request of President Barack Obama, declined to take a position on the suitability of Yucca Mountain.

The fight against moving forward with the project was led by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada.

⿿They were ready to push forward with Yucca Mountain, but it became a political football,⿝ said Glenn Sjoden, a professor of nuclear engineering at Georgia Tech.

Sjoden also suggested that the U.S. put more emphasis on reprocessing nuclear wastes. He said France reprocesses 85 percent of its spent nuclear fuel, providing an important source of energy and dramatically reducing the amount of wastes that need to be stored.

Copyright 2011 American City Business Journals

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