Spent fuel rod storage containers at Entergy Vermont Yan­kee. (Reformer file photo)
Spent fuel rod storage containers at Entergy Vermont Yan­kee. (Reformer file photo)
Thursday March 21, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Spent nuclear fuel stored at Vermont Yankee should be taxed, and a trust fund should be established to manage that material, a local lawmaker says.

The trust fund, according to a new bill introduced by state Sen. Jeanette White, is designed to "reduce the risk that taxpayers, ratepayers or retail electric utilities will experience adverse claims or costs resulting from a shortage of available funds for the management of spent fuel."

And the Putney-based Democrat said the tax, which varies depending on how the fuel is stored, is justified.

"We tax all kinds of waste and storage," she said. "It made sense to tax this."

A spokesman for Entergy, which operates the Vernon plant, said the company "already pays a significant amount of taxes to the state of Vermont and opposes any additional taxes."

White introduced the bill last week, and it was referred to the Senate Finance Committee. It is highly unlikely that the legislation will be passed during the current session, though it could happen in next year's session.

"We know that bills never remain the same as they are when they're introduced," White said. "So, we'll see what happens to it."

As it is now written, the bill requires any owner/operator of a Vermont nuclear plant to create a trust fund to cover the full cost of spent-fuel management. That is defined as "the control and supervision of uranium fuel that has been used in and removed from the reactor of a nuclear-energy generating plant until such time as the fuel is removed from Vermont and placed in a federally certified, long-term storage facility."

Management includes storage as well as "all associated operations, security and maintenance."

The state's Public Service Board would monitor the fund and could order "the timely addition to the trust of additional funds if needed to achieve the purpose of the trust," the legislation says.

However, the board cannot "assume or account for any payment by the federal government for managing spent fuel ... unless and until such payment is made and placed into the trust."

The Public Service Board also cannot assume that any cash from the plant's decommissioning fund would be available for spent-fuel management "unless and until the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) has affirmatively approved a request by the plant owner for such use," the bill says.

"A trust under this section shall be separate from any decommissioning trust required for a plant," the legislation says.

The bill does not specify how much cash might be needed for spent-fuel management; such a determination would be made by the Public Service Board.

And Entergy would not be required to fully fund the trust right away. The legislation allows for "periodic additions" to the trust as long as it is 50 percent funded by July 1, 2016 and fully funded by July 1, 2018.

Separately, the bill also introduces a new tax on spent nuclear fuel. It covers "every person storing or disposing of spent nuclear fuel at a facility in the state."

The taxes are set as follows:

-- $6 per ton of spent nuclear fuel stored in a hardened cask surrounded by inert gas.

-- $30 per ton of spent nuclear fuel that is not in a hardened cask

-- $100 per ton for spent fuel "stored at the facility that was not generated at the site of the facility."

The tax would be collected quarterly, and revenues would go into the state's Clean Energy Development Fund.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.