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Supervisors Agree To Ask Feds To Remove San Onofre Waste

September 16, 2015 1:21 p.m.


David Victor, chairman, San Onofre Community Engagement Panel

Ron Roberts, fourth district supervisor, San Diego County Board of Supervisors

Tom Palmisano, vice president of decommissioning, Southern California Edison

Related Story: Supervisors Agree To Ask Feds To Remove San Onofre Waste


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Maureen Cavanaugh. San Diego County supervisors are now on record requesting federal government to remove spent nuclear fuel from the site of the San Olfre nuclear power plant. After yesterday's vote because he will send a letter to the US Secretary. of energy urging prompt removal and relocation of the hundreds of tons of nuclear waste left at the site. Removal is already the stated role of the Ottoman. The problem is there is still no permanent nuclear waste storage site in the US. Joining me to discuss why the supervisors decided to make this request and the current technology being used to store the race I might guess San Diego County supervisor Ron Roberts.
UC San Diego professor David Fechter -- Victor engagement panel. And David a combat.
On the phone with us is Tom Paul Masson oh. With Southern California Edison. Time welcome.
Thank you very much.
Supervisor Roberts why did the supervisors take the step of voting on this resolution and sending this letter to the energy secretary?
First of all there is concern and there was little -- little debate that the board with anonymous. We needed basically put more of a spotlight on this issue.
What are you concerned about?
I am concerned -- if you were going to locate facility where you were going to store spent nuclear fuel you would not do it in a high earthquake prone area. You would not do it in a coastal area. And you would not do it in the middle of a meme Norma's population. I'm not just talking about San Diego but all of Southern California. Is is not the place where you would say you are going to store nuclear fuel. They have fallen into this because they have allowed a situation in which they have promise for years there was going to be a scientifically chosen place that would be very stable and that would be acceptable for this type of material. For political reasons they have decided to back off on that.
So basically if I understand this correctly, this is a move to get to prod the government into some sort of action.
Absolutely. Not only the P or we have instructed our lobbyist that we want to make an issue of this. We found a subcommittee of two that enables us to speak for the board and make the trips to Washington or wherever else is necessary to pursue actively calling attention to this. Also working with other communities in a parallel course to see if we can get the federal government to bring real solutions.
Tom, can you give us the figures of how much spent nuclear fuel is at the San Olfre site?
Yes I can't. In total, we have 2668 fuel assemblies in wet storage and to fuel ports. We have approximately 1100 assemblies in dry stores. So we have a total of almost 3800 fuel assemblies stored at the site. That is around 1400 metric tons. People sometimes speak it in those terms.
How long is it expected to remain at the San Olfre site?
Unfortunately with the lack of action by the Department of Energy and federal government, our current plan calls for the fuel to be stored on-site until the year 2049. Until all of it is removed. That is really due to the inaction of the federal government to open off-site storage or disposal site.
So just to be clear, it sounds very much from your answer that Southern California Edison is not too keen on keeping the spent nuclear fuel at San Olfre either.
That is correct. When the plant was operating it was a different story because we needed to operate the plant and store fuel. Now that the plan is closed and being decommissioned, the appropriate course of action is to complete the decommissioning and remove the fuel from the site as soon as it can be. That takes federal government action.
Now David and Victor you have been so involved in this -- in explaining this entire plan to so many others stakeholders. Can you tell us what is Edison's plan to contain the fuel and keep it safe was Max
The idea is to get the fuel out of these pools when it has cooled down. Then put it into stainless steel casks and then hopefully to send it to some other location. That is the problem we have right now. Over the last two years -- via spent more time on this topic than anything else. I think a lot of people have been surprised to learn there is no federal strategy for removing the fuel. It will go into these canisters were that is the safest place for it to be. Did it is stuck. We ended immunity panels have been spending time looking at other options. There are two private sites emerged one in New Mexico and one in Texas. For a fee, they can consolidate all of the fuel bear and provide a much better place to store it. I was at the meeting yesterday at the Board of Supervisors in San Diego talking with them about what we have learned. Also, how the board can't help along with other communities who pushed the federal government to make that a legal option.
Is not a legal option now is my
There is some ambiguity. There's a question about how to move it across the borders. There is a site has the identified that has been saved which is the -- Mountain. Some people in Nevada don't want it. So there's some questions about law and moving the fuel across state borders. There is also a question about finance. The industry has paid into a big fun. The government is not doing its job getting the fund to pay the cost of permanently storing the fuel. So there is a question with new legislation some of those monies could be moved from that fund. I think it is a good idea. Everybody I have talked to think the same. There has been a range of views about the plant over its lifetime. The scenario where I think every body is on the same site.
From Roberts has Edison been working with San Diego County officials about plans for both decommissioning and the way storage?
Not to my knowledge. This whole thing has taken everybody by surprise. At the speed in which close down. I am not faulting them. They got bigger headaches then --. It was clear there was not a permanent solution and it was beyond them unfortunately. When David says it is the safest place, he means at the safest manner at that location. At the heart of this, this is the wrong location to be thinking of keeping it there for decades. Very bad solution. I think the federal government ought to be investigation even some of the things and the work they have done on Yucca Mountain and other places where it was anticipated that will be a place but this.
I think we would like to work with Edison on a solution. To the extent we can join efforts we would very much like that. We are on a course and are parallel courses -- and I would reach out and say yes we would appreciate they being informed. And being able to coordinate activities and help in any way shape or form.
David do you want to add something?
This is very important. If we are going to put the San Olfre site first in line to get the fuel removed and sent to an room facility, we need to do a lot of -- work. We need to figure out the transportation. Orange County and other local communities including communities along the way between here and New Mexico and Texas and some other site where they will have to work together. I think we have a lot of spadework to be done here to make sure that when the fuel is ready to be moved we raise the odds as high as possible. We actually have a place to send it.
I've been following this story and KPBS -- is a semi-is is a slight change in emphasis from both Edison and from the commission that you are on David. For a long time since the commission has been trying to convince skeptics that this dry cask storage is totally safe. And that it can be said On the site for decades to come. Is this a switch?
It is not a switch. You have to have confidence in the dry cask storage technology. Otherwise it does not make sense to move the fuel into those storage cast. I personally spent a tremendous amount of time on this and look at literature in death. I am very confident. We worked on that problem in a series of other problems in the panel. The loan -- number one issue is how we get the fuel out of your. That is where we now shift a lot of attention. We are not a decision-making body so we can bring the community together to talk about these issues and raise awareness and pave the way -- hopefully that means private companies will be ready to take the fuel but we can't guarantee.
I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but if it is totally safe why do we have to move it?
I think the evidence shows that the casks are unbelievably robust and especially robust and seismic areas. You really want to move the fuel out of the pools into these casks. Then you are stuck with a patent that all of these caps on it and nothing else going on in the facility other than these waste facility. So it doesn't make sense in the situation -- across the nation of more than 60 reactors sites were fuel is building up. In a place like Sunil Mulford that is being the commission does not make sense to continue to hold the fuel bear and lots of pockets around the country.
From Roberts just last week the torrential flooding in Japan once again flooded containment tanks and nuclear waste storage facility and the Fukushima plant. Releasing contaminated water. Is that the kind of unexpected natural disaster scenario they are concerned about?
That is certainly one of them. I have a lot of respect for -- my background is I am an architect that my minor was in structural engineering. I will tell you after every earthquake we find out all of the things we did not know and all the assumptions we are making. I suspect this is the best technology today. I have my suspicions by the year 2049 it will not be the best technology. But you would not -- why put yourself in a high risk area for decades and say somehow we are going to muddle through. There is nothing that could prevent -- it is unlikely we will have a salami like we saw in Japan, but given the right kind of earthquake and a shift in the plates and all the other things happening, you could see that. Is not impossible. We have had those things hit in California before. So I think being right on the water in height earthquake zone seems to me first of all to put you at risk. Respect of of how good a job we are doing. I think they really are trying to do their very best we can. We should be -- I want to see my grandkids and their grandkids be able to be here if this is where they want to live without this hanging over their heads. I think this presents an ongoing situation that not only has to be managed but you should be looking for long-term stable solution.
Tom Palmer Siano if this effort were to open up some of the private sites and perhaps make them an option that the private sites that David was talking about -- with Southern California Edison the amenable to paying for the shipping of that nuclear waste to those sites?
Maureen, first of all. Lemieux sure everybody we are storing the fuel safely now and will continue to. The casks system is a very robust system. If and when he facility opens up we are certainly interested in having the fuel shipped to the facility. We believe in his department of energy's responsibility to ship the fuel and we have already paid for that. And the funds that been collected. To argue is the Department of Energy is to pay for the shipment in the storage or disposal of the fuel. And practice you know, we have sued and won awards from the department of energy from the current ongoing storage costs because of their failure to perform. Is pretty clear the department of energy is going to be responsible financially for this.
Hominy other sites is nuclear fuel stored in this dry cast method was my
There is probably 30 to 40 sites around the country that are using dry cask storage if not more. All of the decommissioning plants that have been decommissioned prior to us, most of the operating plans today are using dry cask storage. So I would say probably 40 to 50 operating plans are using dry cask storage and another 10 to 20 decommissioned plants are. California alone, Sacramento is using dry cask storage, humble PA in Northern California, and Diablo Canyon is using dry cask storage. As David says it is a current --, technology.
Are there concerned about those sites as well in the long run?
The concern for the shutdown site like San Olfre is there is no need to store any shutdown site anymore. It is more appropriate for the department of energy to take and store it a central location and dispose of it. Take responsibility for the security of it and the control of it. The operating plans for a different situation. Have different needs. For shutdown plant there is no need to store any shutdown location.
, Use the Southern California Edison joined the San Diego County in any way making this appeal to the energy Department to move this along the idea of finding some permanent storage site for this waste?
In fact within San Diego proposed letters an appropriate thing to do. Via party met with the department of energy and urge them to take action. They visited our site in June and we told very specifically about the need for them to open up some type of facility to take the fuel. We have been active on this since the plants shut down. I would mention the community engagement panel has representative from the San Diego supervisors. He has been involved in the discussion over the last year and a half on this topic.
Thank you Tom. David I will give you the last word. You have been conducting these panels.
The leadership of the Department of Energy knows this is a good idea. They want to make it happen. One of the things that is tricky is we probably do need changes in legislation. We need to deal with the issue of who pays for this. All of that will require action in Washington and they are not famous for acting on much. I think that is where we are in a difficult position right now. The more pressure we can get such as we have seen from the San Diego board, the better. We are in the process of talking to lots of other local communities to make formal statements and to start to really move the ball.
Thank you very much. I've been speaking to San Diego supervisor Ron Roberts. Professor David Victor and Tom Palmisiano. Thank you gentlemen.
Thank you very much.