List of experts for SoCal Edison’s San Onofre nuclear waste panel is out and reactions are mixed
Orange County Register (2018-03-15) Teri Sforza
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More Info: Settlement To Move San Onofre Waste
The new “Experts Panel” that will probe re-homing options for 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste at San Onofre includes Allison Macfarlane, former chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Richard Moore, a consultant specializing in transportation of radiological materials.
Southern California Edison, majority owner of the shuttered reactors, agreed to form the panel and spend up to $4 million on a waste relocation study as part of a legal settlement reached last year with opponents of “a beach-front nuclear waste dump.”
More than 30 proposals came in for the panel, Edison said, and six experts were chosen.
Also on the panel:
- Kristopher W. Cummings, a fuel storage expert and engineer with Curtiss-Wright Nuclear Division
- Thomas Isaacs, former director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Policy
- Gary Lanthrum, former director of the National Transportation Program for Yucca Mountain
- Josephine Piccone, former U.S. representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Radiation Standards Safety Committee
The announcement was received with optimism in some quarters, and derision in others.
“This is a really good step forward,” said Mike Aguirre, one of the attorneys who filed suit. “We’re very pleased that Southern California Edison has kept its word.”
David Victor, an international law professor at UC San Diego and chair of San Onofre’s volunteer Community Engagement Panel, was critical of Aguirre’s lawsuit and the resulting settlement, but is encouraged by this development nonetheless.
“It is a serious group of experts that is well-connected in Washington,” Victor said. “Hopefully they will help us focus on the best technical options and how to get them appointment.”
Less generous was Charles Langley of Public Watchdogs in San Diego County, which is suing the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric in federal court, saying they lack the legal authority to bury nuclear waste on the beach at San Onofre State Beach Park.
“To quote Shakespeare, it is much ado about nothing … a tale told by an idiot,” Langley said. “The original lawsuit was to revoke the permit allowing Edison to bury deadly nuclear waste 108 feet from the water. Had the case been heard, instead of settled out of court in exchange for a lucrative payoff, it is very likely that the court would have ordered Edison to find a better location.”
The choice of Macfarlane was troubling to him: She was instrumental in ending the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage project, and, under her leadership, no other better location was sought or suggested, Langley said.
“The sole intent of this settlement was to create the illusion that Edison is actually doing something to find a better location,” he said. “It does nothing to solve a very real problem. Even worse, the entire charade is being funded by $4 million in ratepayer money. What we need is a legal order that forces Edison to move the waste to a safer location and to tear down the existing beachfront nuclear waste dump.”
A permanent home?
Many fervently hope to expel the nuclear waste from atop the bluff at San Onofre as soon as possible. Most of it is cooling in spent fuel pools, but it will all be transferred to dry storage in the “concrete bunker” that is the Holtec HI-STORM UMAX system by the middle of 2019, Edison said.
Dry storage is far safer than fuel pools, nuclear experts say. But opponents fear the waste will remain on the bluff for decades and pose grave danger to people and the environment.
Aguirre still holds out hope for a transfer to Palo Verde in Arizona until the federal government finds the waste a permanent home, even though officials there have rejected the idea.
A bit of background: In the last century, nuclear power was the future. To encourage its development, the federal government passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, promising to accept and dispose of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste by Jan. 31, 1998. In return, utilities would make quarterly payments into the aforementioned Nuclear Waste Fund.
The utilities held up their end of the bargain – pumping about $750 million a year into the fund – but the DOE did not. It has not accepted any commercial nuclear waste for permanent disposal.
The nuclear industry sued the DOE over all this; a federal judge said the DOE couldn’t charge for a service it not only wasn’t providing but wouldn’t provide for many decades to come; and in 2014, utilities all across America finally stopped charging their customers this fee.
In the meantime, utilities are suing the DOE over breach of contract for sticking them with the waste. The DOE has paid out some $4 billion to utilities – including to Southern California Edison, operator of San Onofre – and the DOE estimates this will cost about $25 billion before it’s all over. The industry says it will be more like double that.
None of it will come from the Nuclear Waste Fund. Instead, it comes from the pockets of taxpayers, whether they got power from nuclear energy or not.
The San Onofre Community Engagement Panel will discuss storage of used nuclear fuel during its quarterly meeting from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 22, at the Laguna Hills Community Center, 25555 Alicia Parkway.