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Edison Names Panel Of San Onofre Nuclear Waste Advisors

Storage bunkers containing spent nuclear fuel at the San Onofre Nuclear Gener...

Credit: Southern California Edison

Above: Storage bunkers containing spent nuclear fuel at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, February 2018.

Southern California Edison has named a panel of experts to advise the company on how to move nuclear waste off the storage site near the beach at San Onofre.

The panel is part of a settlement reached last August after plaintiffs, including attorney Mike Aguirre, challenged the California Coastal Commission’s permit to bury the radioactive waste in dry cask storage 100 feet from the ocean.

The panel includes a former chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Allison Macfarlane, and other nationally recognized experts in the field of nuclear waste disposal.

“We believe this distinguished panel of experts will make significant contributions to a growing industry-wide effort to achieve off-site storage of used nuclear fuel,” wrote Tom Palmisano, chief nuclear officer for Edison. "We have a long road ahead as we undertake this difficult task, but selection of these experts is an important step.”

Aguirre said the settlement requires Edison to spend $4 million convening the panel to work toward alternative storage sites for the spent nuclear fuel rods.

“This is now the first step in getting Southern Cal Edison with these experts and with the community to working in a very positive way to get this waste relocated,” Aguirre said. “Whether it gets relocated to Palo Verde or New Mexico — those are our best two shots — I think this is the group that can make it happen.”

Aguirre said spent fuel from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station can be transferred to another nuclear power plant in Palo Verde, Arizona, where Edison is part owner. Palo Verde has so far refused.

Two private companies have begun the process of obtaining a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build interim storage sites in Texas and New Mexico. However, federal law does not currently allow funding for interim storage.

Charles Langley, of the group Public Watchdogs, calls the agreement a ”toothless settlement,” because it contains no legal requirement for Edison to actually move the waste.

David Victor, chair of Edison’s Citizens Engagement Panel, said the new panel of experts could help lobby for a change in federal law to allow interim storage sites.

“It could all be talk, but talk informed by reality” Victor said, “and the reality is we’re in a very difficult position. Until there’s a change in federal law we will be unable to move the spent fuel out of the San Onofre site.”

Victor said the expert panel could help analyze the options being present

ed by private companies.

“We need to understand what’s happening with private companies that are investing in this new technology,” he said.

Having the expert panel could put Edison in a more powerful position in the national debate over which nuclear waste should take priority when storage sites do open up.

“I think it’s important that the communities around San Onofre are in a lead position here,” Victor said, “because one of the issues that’s going to come up is which waste goes first. We need to make the case that spent fuel from plants that have been decommissioned and whose fuel is ready to go should be first in line. That’s a critical thing that won’t just happen automatically and this is one of the reasons it’s important not just to help make the national conversation but also to lead it.”

The settlement agreement reached last August also includes a commitment from Edison to develop a plan for what to do if the canisters holding the spent fuel rods develop a crack.

Those named to the panel are:

–Kristopher W. Cummings, an industry fuel storage expert.

–Thomas Isaacs, a former director of the Department of Energy's Office of Policy.

–Gary Lanthrum, a former director of the National Transportation program for Yucca Mountain.

–Allison Macfarlane, former chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

–Richard C. Moore, a consultant specializing in the transportation of radiological materials.

–Josephine Piccone, a former U.S. representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency Radiation Safety Standards Committee.

Southern California Edison has engaged a panel of experts to advise the company on how to move nuclear waste off the storage site near the beach at San Onofre.


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