The decommissioned Maine Yankee site in Wiscasset currently houses 542 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel stored, which costs $10 million annually to maintain. (Photo courtesy of Maine Yankee)

WISCASSET — Wiscasset could collect more than $8 million for the 64 containers of nuclear waste stored at the former Maine Yankee power plant site. 

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and  Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, introduced the Sensible, Timely Relief for America’s Nuclear Districts Economic Development (STRANDED) Act earlier this month, aimed at providing financial relief to communities like Wiscasset stuck with storing nuclear waste.

Should the STRANDED Act pass, Wiscasset, home to decommissioned Maine Yankee, would be eligible to receive $15 per kilogram of nuclear waste currently being housed at the site, which is the rate for impact assistance established under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. 

There are about 542 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel stored at Maine Yankee, meaning Wiscasset would collect over $8 million from the government. According to Maine Yankee, it costs roughly $10 million per year to maintain the 64 canisters of radioactive waste. 

“In the absence of a permanent (disposal) site, this will help alleviate the burden communities face and may help encourage Congress to take action on a long-term solution for nuclear waste, which is something Collins supports,” said Christopher Knight, a spokesperson for Collins. 

Maine Yankee operated from 1972 to 1996. The company’s board voted to cease operations rather than invest in fixing expensive safety-related problems to keep the plant running.

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The spent nuclear fuel is housed in 64 dry storage casks, which stand on 16 3-foot-thick concrete pads. Each concrete cask is comprised of a 2.5-inch thick steel liner surrounded by 28 inches of reinforced concrete. 

The federal government was contractually obligated to remove the radioactive waste by 1998, but that commitment was never fulfilled.

Plans to build a permanent disposal site in the Yucca Mountains in Nevada were scrapped in 2009 by the Obama Administration. 

A federal judge has awarded the owners of three nuclear power plants millions of dollars. This money pays for the operation of the fuel storage site so local taxpayers, including those in Wiscasset, aren’t left to foot the bill. 

“The Yankee companies collectively have to date recovered about $575 million on behalf of our ratepayers in the ongoing litigation with the Department of Energy,” said Eric Howes, Maine Yankee director of public and government affairs. “Maine Yankee’s portion of the $575 million total is about $176.5 million.” 

This money was amassed as a result of four separate lawsuits against the Department of Energy. When the U.S. government loses a lawsuit, the money lost comes from The Judgement Fund, which, in turn, is funded by taxpayers. This means the money Maine Yankee won from the U.S. government ultimately came from taxpayers. 

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“The Nuclear Waste Policy Act says those who benefit from nuclear power would be responsible for the removal of the spent nuclear fuel,” Howes said. “The cost of disposing Maine Yankee’s fuel has been fully paid for by the ratepayers. The government, however, has not met its obligation to remove the material from the site, and that’s true at every nuclear waste site in the country.”

For the 24 years Maine Yankee was in operation it paid for 96 percent of Wiscasset’s budget. Today, it covers about 10 percent of the town’s $10 million budget. In 1994 Maine Yankee paid just shy of $12 million in taxes. In 2018 it paid approximately $709,900. 

Wiscasset resident Pam Dunning recounted how she paid $68 in property taxes annually during what she refers to as the “Maine Yankee days.” Now, she pays $3,000 annually. 

Dunning, who served as a Wiscasset selectman for three terms and chairman for two terms when Maine Yankee was in operation, described how the town could pay for new, state-of-the-art infrastructure with the money Maine Yankee provided. After Maine Yankee ceased operations, Wiscasset’s expensive infrastructure remained.

“Now the local people are carrying that burden,” Dunning said.

Moreover, Maine Yankee’s decommissioning affected the relationships between Wiscasset and the surrounding towns.

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“We used to take in children from surrounding towns at a reduced tuition rate, well below the state recommended rate. When Maine Yankee went away we started charging the full tuition rate, and people weren’t happy,” said Dunning. 

Howes said Maine Yankee’s goal is to go out of business.

It’s our responsibility to store this material in accordance with all the federal regulations,” Howes said. “When the government finally removes the spent nuclear fuel, we’ll go out of business, but I don’t know when that will be.” 

There are 24 permanently and announced shutdown nuclear sites across the U.S. Five are in New England.

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