PORTLAND, Maine — A federal judge has granted Maine Yankee and two sister companies a third payment from the U.S. government as damages for continued storage of spent nuclear fuel.

U.S. Court of Federal Claims Senior Judge James Merow in an order issued Thursday granted Maine Yankee $24.6 million to compensate for the cost of storing spent nuclear fuel near the decommissioned nuclear plant in Wiscasset. The award covers storage from 2009 to 2012.

Past awards have helped cover current costs otherwise borne by ratepayers.

The decision comes as the federal government advances its latest effort to craft a long-term plan for storing spent nuclear fuel from power plants and the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

Wayne Norton, head of the three Yankee Atomic power companies, said in a statement Friday that he hopes Congress implements a pilot program to begin removing the spent nuclear waste from shuttered reactor sites and consolidating it in a more permanent storage area.

“The three Yankee companies will continue to work closely with our stakeholders to hasten the day when the federal government fulfills its obligation to remove the spent nuclear fuel … from our sites so that they can be reused for other purposes and the cost burden on ratepayers is lifted,” Norton said.

The federal government has a contractual obligation to dispose of the 550 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel that is stored in Wiscasset and at other sites. The Wiscasset Newspaper reported Monday that the Department of Energy plans to hold a public comment session in Boston in June, to which local officials were invited.

The federal government is now starting a process to identify a community where it would pilot such a storage program. Norton said enacting that plan still requires an act of Congress this session.

Aside from the award to Maine Yankee, Judge Merow awarded $32.6 million to Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Co. in East Hampton, Connecticut, and $19.6 million to Yankee Atomic Power Co. in Rowe, Massachusetts.

The award represents the third phase of damages for the companies, which have an ongoing lawsuit against the federal government to recoup those costs for storing the fuel.

Maine Yankee began generating power in 1972, and was shut down in 1997, beginning an eight-year dismantling process ending in 2005. It is owned by a consortium of utilities in New England, with Central Maine Power being the largest shareholder with a 38 percent stake. Now merged as Emera Maine, Bangor Hydro Electric Co. owns 7 percent and Maine Public Service Co. owns 5 percent.

Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.