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December 18, 2010

Nuclear Townhall 
The Federal government's recorded liabilities for "its inability to accept commercial spent nuclear fuel" from utilities are now estimated at $15.5 billion accordingly to a new U.S. Department of Energy Agency Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2010. The liability estimate for partial breach of contract under the terms of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act is up over $2 billion dollars from the previous fiscal year estimate of $13.2 billion. The new estimate is net of $841 million in settlements already paid to utilities, which leaves the total liability estimate at $16.2 billion.
While the significant year-over-year increase is not highlighted in messages from Energy Secretary Steven Chu or Chief Financial Officer Steve Isakowitz in the 134-page November 12, 2010 report, the liability increase is flagged as material in the KPMG LLP Auditors' Report, which accompanies the report.
Although the report characterizes industry estimates of $50 billion in ultimate damages as "highly inflated" it cautions that "future determinations on how the Department will meet its obligations… could materially decrease or increase the spent nuclear fuel litigation liability." Approximately 50 cases remain pending in the Court of Federal Claims or in the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Settlements are paid out of the Department of Justice's Judgment Fund.
The report notes that the Department "remains committed to meeting its obligations to manage and ultimately dispose of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste" and says, "The Secretary has convened a Blue Ribbon Commission of experts to evaluate alternative approaches to meet the Federal government's responsibility."

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