We manage many types of waste created by generating electricity, operating office buildings, and repairing and replacing equipment. We continue to make progress in reducing waste and diverting waste away from landfills through beneficial reuse or recycling.
In 2012, we began and completed an initial loading of spent nuclear fuel into dry casks at the Cook Nuclear Plant in Michigan, which will support an additional three years of dual-unit operation at full power.
We’ve made headway in reducing the amount of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB)-containing equipment used across the company. PCBs have not been used in new electrical equipment for more than 30 years but are present in some of our older transformers and other pieces of electric equipment. We removed and recycled approximately 42,000 pieces of electrical equipment in 2013; less than 1 percent of these items were found to contain greater than 500 parts per million (ppm) PCBs.
The EPA continues to move forward on developing a proposal that may mandate the phasing out of various levels of PCB-containing equipment. The rule potentially could be quite costly due to the amount of equipment affected and the expense of identifying and replacing it.
There were approximately 1,800 transmission and distribution equipment spills in 2013, down from approximately 2,085 in 2012. Ten spills involved greater than 500 ppm PCBs in 2013 compared with nine spills in 2012.
During 2013, we also recycled nearly 1.6 million gallons of oil, 11 million pounds of paper and mixed office waste, 48 million pounds of scrap metal, 147,000 light bulbs, 233,000 pounds of batteries and more than 433,000 pounds of electronic equipment, such as computers and phones, preventing disposal in landfills. These numbers are not all inclusive but are considered good estimates of waste management across AEP and indicate progress in reducing waste.
Nuclear Waste Management
The Department of Energy (DOE) oversees permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel and historically has charged fees to plant owners for this disposal. But the government has stopped developing the Yucca Mountain storage facility in Nevada, leaving this issue unresolved.
Indiana Michigan Power (I&M) owns and operates the two-unit, 2,191-MW Donald C. Cook Nuclear Plant in Michigan. Like the rest of the nuclear industry, we have a significant future financial commitment to dispose of spent nuclear fuel. We need a national solution to this issue, which should be part of a comprehensive energy strategy.
Since 1983, I&M has been required to collect a fee of one mill per kilowatt-hour for fuel consumed after April 6, 1983. The fees that are collected have gone into a federal Nuclear Waste Fund to pay for a federal nuclear waste disposal site. The Fund has collected nearly $30 billion nationally, including interest, since the surcharge was put in place.
The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), along with several utilities (including I&M), filed a petition in late 2012 challenging the DOE’s continued collection of this surcharge. In November 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered DOE to submit a proposal to Congress to reduce the fee to zero in light of the fact that no disposal site has ever been selected and the Fund coffers are more than adequate to cover current activity. DOE submitted that proposal to Congress in January 2014, but it is not yet effective. DOE will likely seek to stay its effect while it pursues all available routes of appeal. In the meantime, I&M continues to collect and pay the fee as required by current law.
The uncertainty associated with long-term storage has placed the burden of interim storage on each nuclear facility. AEP is addressing this issue on the assumption that a workable offsite solution will not exist before the operating licenses for both Cook units expire two decades from now. In 2011, AEP signed a settlement agreement with the federal government that allows I&M to make annual filings to recover certain spent nuclear fuel storage costs resulting from the government’s delay in accepting the spent fuel for storage.
In 2012, the Cook Plant began a program of loading spent fuel into dry casks. Twelve casks, each containing 32 spent nuclear fuel assemblies, were loaded that year. Without removal of the used-fuel assemblies, the spent fuel pool would have reached capacity in 2014, forcing shutdown of one or both Cook units. The next cask loading is scheduled for 2015, when 16 casks are expected to be loaded, with future loadings to occur every three years thereafter. The facility can be expanded as demand requires.
Discussions are occurring within the industry about the feasibility of building regional or private fuel storage facilities to handle interim storage until a long-term repository or reprocessing plan is in place, using the funds that have been collected for long-term storage. The outcome of these discussions is uncertain.