Nuclear waste storage moves ahead as Issa, others, seek to relocate it
Union Tribune (2017-02-02) Jeff Mc Donald
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One San Diego County congressman is taking a high-profile stand against the prospect of parking tons of spent nuclear fuel on the Southern California beachfront for decades to come.
Rep. Darrell Issa
, whose district includes the shuttered plant, introduced a bill earlier this month aimed at relocating the nuclear waste from San Onofre, where more than 8 million people live within 50 miles.
“It’s just located on the edge of an ocean and one of the busiest highways in America,” Issa said of the plant, which is now being decommissioned. “We’ll be paying for storage for decades and decades if we don’t find a solution. And that will be added to your electricity bill.”
Edison is already at work shifting the radioactive waste into a burial site just north of the reactors. Utility executives plan to finish the job by 2019.
The last hope for environmentalists committed to stopping the process may be a lawsuit pending in San Diego Superior Court, where a judge has ordered a hearing in March.
“They haven’t carefully looked at other places where this fuel could be safely stored,” said Ray Lutz of Citizens Oversight, which filed suit against the California Coastal Commission challenging its 2015 permit for the storage facility.
“The location they picked may be the most convenient for Edison but it’s the absolute worst for everyone else,” he added. “You have the proximity to the ocean, the salt air, the tsunami risk, the earthquake faults, the 10-lane freeway, the railroad tracks and 8.4 million people within 50 miles.”
Lutz cited three possible locations that alleviate many of the concerns: east of Interstate 5 somewhere else on Camp Pendleton; a remote stretch of San Bernardino County east of the San Andreas Fault; or outside Tonopah, Arizona, at the Palo Verde nuclear plant co-owned by Edison.
“That doesn’t take care of all of the issues, but it takes care of a lot of them,” he said.
For years, spent fuel rods from San Onofre have been placed into cooling ponds near the reactors and monitored around the clock.
The pools were never meant to be permanent. They were designed to solve the waste-storage problem on a temporary basis while federal officials develop a national solution, like the repository long ago proposed at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Amid political squabbling, no such plan has been approved.
Edison will have filled more than 100 steel-lined concrete canisters with 3.6 million pounds of spent fuel once the job is finished. The canisters can be shipped offsite if and when a location is secured, the company said.
Edison said the protocol is safe and meets with federal and state approval.
“Dry cask storage is a proven technology that has been used for more than three decades in the United States, subject to review and licensing by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
,” said Brown, the Edison spokeswoman.
A growing number of environmentalists and activists is concerned that the strategy is not safe.
They worry the casks are untested, susceptible to earthquakes and saltwater intrusion and that a leak could go unnoticed, threatening millions of people who live near the decommissioned plant.
“The issue of what to do with nuclear waste is a clear and present danger to every human life within 100 miles of San Onofre,” said Charles Langley of the activist group Public Watchdogs, which is pushing Brown to revoke the permit issued by the California Coastal Commission in 2015.
“Everyone is whistling past the graveyard, including our regulators,” Langley said. “They are storing nuclear waste that is deadly to humans for 10,000 generations in containers that are only guaranteed to last 25 years.”
Lawyers for the Coastal Commission and co-defendant Edison sought to have the Citizens Oversight case dismissed, but a judge in November ruled the case should be heard.
“The stakes for the environment are so high,” Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes said.
The hearing in that case is scheduled March 30.
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