The industry sued and won damages. Warns Murkowski: "The federal government's breach of contract has cost nearly $3 billion so far and is likely to grow upward of $20 billion if it fails to accept used fuel by 2020."
It gets worse.
The fees the industry has paid, which as of January 2013 total $28.2 billion, went into a fund. But because of what the staffer calls "inside-the-Beltway bookkeeping," the money is not there.
"Just as with Social Security and a lot of other funds," he explains, "this fund has been subject to appropriation and has been used to help balance the federal budget."
If DOE, tomorrow, decided to get busy honoring its obligation to provide waste storage, he says, "We would have a $28 billion hole in the budget. To fill it, we'd have to raise taxes or cut spending."
Asked if he thinks the United States still has the will or the self-discipline to fix so huge a problem, he says yes it does.
Postponing action, he says, is not a no-lose proposition.
"This stuff is dangerous where it is now." He points, for example, to "leaking tanks with millions of gallons of radioactive waste" in Hanford, Wash., right on the Columbia River. "Look at Fukushima," he says. "There's a high risk of something like that happening in the U.S."