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Task Force Recommends Creation Of Agency Focusing On Disposal Of San Onofre Nuclear Waste

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is pictured, April 16, 2019.

Photo by Claire Trageser

Above: The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is pictured, April 16, 2019.

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Wednesday's report from the SONGS Task Force featured a wide range of policy recommendations to ensure the safe removal of nuclear fuel from the site and development of a permanent repository location to dispose of the waste.

Aired: June 25, 2020 | Transcript

Update: 3:25 pm, June 25, 2020

A task force of experts and local stakeholders working on solutions for the decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station has recommended the creation of a federal Nuclear Waste Administration focused solely on storage and disposal of spent nuclear fuel.

Wednesday's report from the SONGS Task Force, formed by Rep. Mike Levin, D-Oceanside, featured a wide range of policy recommendations to ensure the safe removal of nuclear fuel from the site — also known as SONGS — and development of a permanent repository location to dispose of the waste.

The task force recommended the additional federal agency because members say the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that oversees nuclear energy is typically focused on operating reactors. The task force also recommended moving the spent fuel — or SNF — to a site at a higher elevation, farther from the coast to avoid water corrosion risks, and to expand emergency planning procedures stemming from plant operations to cover all municipalities within a 50-mile radius of the plant.

Nearly 3.6 million pounds of spent nuclear fuel are stored at the plant, which stopped producing electricity in 2012.

The report states that federal legislation mandating SNF removal from SONGS is needed, and that a lack of such regulatory framework "has led to stranded SNF throughout the country."

Another concern raised by task force members is the possibility that Southern California Edison could sell the now-closed nuclear plant to a private company to complete the decommissioning. Holtec, the company hired to move spent nuclear fuel at San Onofre, has already purchased three nuclear plants on the east coast.

Retired Admiral Len Hering co-chaired the task force. He says the State Attorney General should intervene if such a sale is proposed.

"If something goes wrong then the entity that owns it simply goes bankrupt and we are left holding the bag. Our nuclear waste should not be owned by a private entity," Hering said.

The task force also found that SONGS' below-grade storage system could make it more difficult to retrieve SNF if needed, and is susceptible to erosion due to being buried "in unstable sandstone bluffs."

"I am fortunate to represent one of the most beautiful Congressional districts in the United States, but 1,600 tons of spent nuclear fuel sitting at San Onofre threaten our safety and our coastline," Levin said.

"We must ensure the safety of the San Onofre site, minimize the probability for accidents, improve emergency planning, and strengthen public trust. We must also begin planning in earnest to transport the waste away from SONGS — a highly challenging but not insurmountable task. While there are a wide range of views on how we should move forward, this report provides a roadmap for how we can move forward together. I'm incredibly grateful for all of the work my San Onofre Task Force and its co-chairs have put into developing solutions for these challenges, and I'm thrilled to share their work."

The full report can be viewed here.

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