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Fortnightly Magazine - July 15 1996

that electric utilities pay in to the fund, given what it called DOE's "continuing delays and lack of progress." It continued: "The DOE's failure to resolve the spent nuclear fuel issue is a threat to Virginia." (Re Investigation of Spent Nuclear Fuel Disposal, Case No. PUE950060, July 18, 1995 [Va.SCC].)

A Public Discussion

A few weeks ago on June 12, the Minnesota Department of Public Service (DPS) became the first state agency to challenge the DOE on the record. It issued a formal recommendation that the state public utilities commission (PUC) should allow Northern States Power Co. to withhold payments into the waste fund and direct them instead to an escrow account for nuclear waste and disposal.

Janet Gonzalez, speaking for the DPS, said the Minnesota PUC would solicit comments and then reply comments (due July 13, and August 21) on the DPS recommendation, and would schedule a hearing "sometime after September 1" and "most likely late fall."

DOE told me it would issue no official comment and will wait to see what the Minnesota PUC does.

I also talked with Gary Johnson, vice president and general counsel at Northern States Power. "We share the frustration (em the outrage (em that the DPS expresses, in that our customer's money has not been fully utilized for its intended purpose."

Although it might appear as a victory for utilities, an endorsement of the DPS recommendation by the Minnesota PUC would place utilities at risk of having their nuclear operating licenses by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, presumably acting on a request from DOE.

"That threat has been articulated to us in the past by the DOE," said Johnson. "But we are optimistic on the outcome of the lawsuit against DOE. Oral argument was held the first week in January and, based on the comments of the Judges at the hearing, we are confident that the court will rule that DOE must begin accepting waste in 1998.

"Who knows, we may get sued by DOE for breach of contract, giving us the opportunity for a public discussion of what our customers have gotten for the millions of dollars they've paid."

At press time, a ruling was expected shortly on the federal court suit. "A reasonably knowledgeable source tells me it could come 'at any time,'" said McCarthy. "The Coalition is in a state of expected readiness."



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