We manage many different types of waste that are created by the business of generating electricity, operating office buildings, and repairing and replacing equipment in the field. We believe our record of managing waste is very good. We continue to make progress reducing waste and diverting waste away from landfills either through beneficial reuse or recycling.
We are also making headway in reducing the amount of PCB-containing equipment used across the company. PCBs haven’t been used in new electrical equipment for more than 30 years but are present in many of our older transformers and other pieces of dielectric material-filled electrical equipment. We removed and recycled approximately 44,000 pieces of electrical equipment in 2012; approximately 0.7 percent of these items were found to contain greater than 500 parts per million of PCBs.
In 2012, the number of transmission and distribution equipment spills increased to approximately 2,080. This increase was due in large part to the greater number and severity of storms that caused damage to our equipment. The number of spills containing PCB concentrations of 50 ppm or greater also increased. This was due to the larger number of spills that occurred overall but also due to a change in the method for reporting this category, which now includes spills from equipment assumed to contain 50 ppm of PCBs or greater. Each of the spills was cleaned up in accordance with all applicable regulatory standards.
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.
The federal government is responsible for the permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel and assesses fees to plant owners for this disposal. But the federal government has stopped development of the Yucca Mountain storage facility in Nevada, leaving the issue unresolved. I&M owns and operates the two-unit 2,107-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.
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.
Since 1983, I&M has been collecting a fee of one mill per kilowatt-hour for fuel consumed after April 6, 1983. In 2011, we signed a settlement agreement with the federal government that allows I&M to make annual filings to recover certain spent nuclear fuel storage costs incurred because of the government’s delay in accepting it for storage.
We completed modifications to the spent nuclear fuel storage pool more than 10 years ago and in 2012 began and completed an initial loading of spent nuclear fuel into dry casks. This consisted of 12 casks containing 32 spent nuclear fuel assemblies within each cask.
By moving the 384 spent-fuel assemblies from the plant’s spent-fuel pool, we will support an additional three years of dual-unit operation at full power. Without removal of the used-fuel assemblies, the spent fuel pool would reach capacity in 2014 and force us to shut down one or both units of the plant. Cask loading is scheduled for every three years going forward. The first phase of the dry-cask facility will accommodate 94 dry casks that will contain a total of 3,008 used fuel assemblies, but the facility can be enlarged incrementally as demand requires.