After more than a decade of litigation with nuclear utilities nationwide, the U.S. Department of Justice is interested in settling claims related to the storage of spent nuclear fuel.
The utilities have been suing the federal government for breach of contract since the late 1990s. Back then, the government was supposed to have begun accepting nuclear waste for long-term storage at a site such as the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada. But it has yet to accept any, leaving the companies to pay ongoing storage costs.
A total of 72 lawsuits have been filed, of which 22 have reached judgment in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and 11 have settled. The government’s liability so far is $2 billion, DOJ says, and that’s expected to grow in light of the Obama administration’s 2009 decision to abandon the Yucca Mountain project.
Now, the Justice Department says further litigation is largely unnecessary. Michael Hertz, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Division, told the House Budget Committee today there are ongoing negotiations about a comprehensive settlement.
“Because many of the major recurring issues have been resolved as the cases have worked their way through trial and the appellate process, the ultimate success of many types of claims is now more predictable to both the government and the utilities,” Hertz said.
He added that DOJ officials are exploring an administrative claims process, which would be “less expensive and more efficient than litigation and that achieves largely the same results.”
The litigation itself has been expensive for the government. DOJ has spent $29 million in attorney costs, $111 million on experts and $52 million in litigation support costs, with no end in sight. About eight trials on the issue are expected in 2011, Hertz said.
Click here for a story last month in The National Law Journal on Jenner & Block’s representation of one nuclear utility, which won a $57 million award this year.