Energy, Environment House Subcommittee Hears San Onofre Safety Concerns

Tuesday, September 26, 2017
By Alison St John
Photo by Katie Schoolov / KPBS
Above: The San Onofre site where Southern California Edison is storing spent fuel rods from the now shuttered nuclear power plant, October 2015.

San Onofre’s 3.5 million pounds of spent fuel is just a fraction of the radioactive nuclear waste at 17 reactor sites being decommissioned around the country.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment met Tuesday to examine the management of the nation’s increasing amount of nuclear waste while highlighting the challenges communities across the country face when dealing with nuclear waste.

David Victor, chair of Southern California Edison’s Citizens Engagement Panel, addressed the subcommittee and emphasized the need to find interim and long-term storage for nuclear waste.

RELATED: Edison Proceeds With Plans To Bury Nuclear Waste At San Onofre Site

Victor was asked about safety concerns in the community around San Onofre, which was shut down permanently in 2013.

“People are seeing the rest of the site being dismantled and they don’t understand why the spent fuel is stuck there,” he told the subcommittee. "And they’re really angry about that because the deal that was made was that we pay the federal government to remove it — and it’s not being moved. And that’s a palpable anger and sentiment in the community.”

Victor said the federal government agreed more than 30 years ago to come up with a plan for long-term storage of spent fuel from the nation’s nuclear plants, but has failed to meet any of its own deadlines.

He advocated for a solution that includes an interim storage site, such as one proposed in New Mexico, combined with reviving plans for a long-term storage site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

In an interview before the hearing, Victor said the government should also reprioritize which of the spent fuel around the country waiting for long-term storage should be moved first. He said currently older spent fuel would have priority.

RELATED: Protest Targets Coastal Commission Permit To Bury Nuclear Waste At San Onofre

“That doesn’t make a lot of rational sense, and it also means that the decommissioned sites like San Onofre are going to be waiting an awfully long time until their fuel is moved. So we’ve been working with the congressional delegation from California on this question. It’s important to put the decommissioned sites first because there is really no ongoing logic to keep spent fuel at those sites once those sites are closed."

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, attended the hearing, which, he said, was a great first step.

"I fear that if we do not find (a solution), taxpayers will find that the fund will be evaporated (and) taxpayers will pay hundreds of billions of dollars if we do not act now and act in a responsible way. I know for an absolute certainty taxpayers are already on the hook at this point for tens of billions of dollars over the next century, but this is a 10,000-year problem in need of a low-cost, safe solution. I thank you and the Ranking Member for holding this hearing. It's a great first step."

Spent nuclear fuel from San Onofre is currently being stored onsite, 100 feet from the ocean, in a seismic zone, in an area surrounded by 8 million people.