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Levin Chairs New Nuclear Waste Caucus

 July 23, 2021 at 10:26 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 The safe storage of nuclear waste is apparently one of the few issues that can get Democrats and Republicans working together on Capitol hill this week, San Diego, north county Congressman Mike Levin has announced the formation of a bipartisan congressional caucus to explore solutions to the spent nuclear waste problem. The issue is close to home for Congressman Levin. His district includes the former San Onofre nuclear power plant, where more than 120 canisters of radioactive waste are now buried on the grounds of the old facility, close to Oceanside, and just 100 feet from the Pacific ocean. Joining me now is congressmen Mike Levin and Congressman Levin. Welcome. Thanks so much for having me, you know, finding a place to store waste from San Antonio and other nuclear sites is an issue that's been battered around Washington for years. What can this new caucus do that hasn't been done before? Speaker 2: 00:56 Well, I think that, uh, you're right, this issue has come and gone over the years, but we really need a forum for members, uh, who care about solving the spent fuel issues, uh, to come together to, uh, to have that discussion, keep things top of mind and not to necessarily elevate one preferred solution or policy position over another, because not all members of the caucus are gonna agree on everything and that's okay. But convening members that care about these issues, I think, uh, will help expedite federal action. And, uh, you know, this was the creation of the caucus was one of the key recommendations made by the Santa no freight task force that I assembled when I got into office in 2019. And I'm really grateful to, uh, the co-chairs of that effort, uh, former, uh, Navy mayor of San Diego, uh, retired Riyadh and Roland herring, and the former head of the nuclear regulatory commission, Greg Jasko, who came together and they made a number of recommendations, uh, some federal, some state and local, but one was create a caucus. Speaker 2: 01:58 Let's begin a new dialogue among members of Congress, Republicans, and Democrats. Uh, because as we know the environment around Santa Antonio is unique. We've got 9 million people within 50 miles, we've got active earthquake faults, we've got sea level rise, but the challenges surrounding the spent nuclear fuel that are located there, uh, those are symptomatic of a greater problem. And the greater problem is we have about 80 locations in 34 states across the country where you have spent nuclear fuel that is stored, uh, after it's been removed from a commercial commercial, nuclear power plant. And, uh, you've got really a nationwide challenge and we have to come to some solutions, whether it be a permanent geologic repository, a consolidated interim storage site or sites, uh, or both, uh, we've got to move the needle and having that dialogue, bringing in the experts, having, uh, members of both parties come together, I think is key to making that happen. Speaker 1: 02:55 And you're working, as you say, with Republicans on this issue, is there much of a political difference in how both sides are approaching the problem of nuclear waste? Speaker 2: 03:05 I think both myself and my co-chair Rodney Davis of Illinois, we both agree that the current system of spent nuclear fuel storage is not sustainable, particularly for sites that no longer have operating reactors. You know, like Santa no fray. He has the Clinton power plant in Illinois that is still operational. But when you have a situation, as we currently do, it is a violation of something that was codified decades ago in the nuclear waste policy act all the way back in 1982, that the federal government would take title to this waste all across the country in return for rate payers contributions to the nuclear waste fund. And, uh, that has simply not happened. The federal government has failed to meet its responsibility. And so you have no place in the entire us for the disposal of high level radioactive waste, uh, of spent nuclear fuel. Speaker 2: 03:55 And we're going to work together in a bipartisan way to try to address these challenges because we've got again all across the country, uh, stranded waste, and we need to help fulfill the government's responsibility to take title to it. Uh, so we're gonna work on a bipartisan basis as best we can. We're going to try to seek solutions. As I said, we're not going to agree on everything, uh, nor would I expect to, but what I do think we share, uh, is that basic premise that the federal federal government needs to step up and do its job as it has supposed to do for decades now, Marine and has no. And is Speaker 1: 04:31 One of the goals of the spent nuclear fuel solutions caucus actually to select a spent storage disposal site? Speaker 2: 04:38 Well, that process, uh, we'll move forward, uh, in, I hope in parallel path with continued discussion among members of our caucus and meetings of our caucus, there are a number of things that need to happen. President Obama had a blue ribbon commission, uh, that he puts together that said we really need to think a new, about a consent based process for a permanent geologic repository. Uh, some of your listeners might be familiar with Yucca mountain in Nevada. I've actually been to Yucca mountain myself, and that project was stopped, uh, around around 2009 for a lot of different reasons. So we lack a permanent geologic repository in the United States, and we need a consent based process to get there. Uh, at the same time we need consolidated interim storage because the, the selection and licensing and eventual development of a permanent repository could take decades. And we cannot in the interim, uh, keep spent nuclear fuel at reactor sites. Uh, we've got degradation of many of the canisters in various locations across the country, including Santa no fray. And, you know, the canisters were not designed to be at these reactor sites, uh, in perpetuity. So we've got to do both permanent repository and interim storage, and we've got to come to the table and do all we can to move as quickly as we can. Now, Speaker 1: 05:56 The caucus will be exploring recycling, spent nuclear fuel, where the technology add on that. Do we know well, we Speaker 2: 06:04 Continue to invest. Uh, and I'm a big supporter of, of that investment in, uh, things like small modular reactors, uh, other potential power plants that can actually use spent fuel from the legacy vision plants across the country can use that fuel in a productive way to generate more electricity without generating additional environmental risks or additional, uh, uh, waste from that, uh, secondary power plant. So those are all encouraging and exciting developments. Uh, longer term, of course, there are things like nuclear fusion, which, uh, you know, some of that work is going on in Southern California. Uh, it's not an either or in other words, uh, uh, we need to do both investment in research and development for nuclear power, and we've got to figure out the existing spent nuclear fuel challenge for the legacy of plants that we have across the United States today. Congressmen, Speaker 1: 06:54 Let me ask you a couple of questions about what else is going on in Washington. There have been rumors that because of the increase in COVID cases, the white house and the CDC are considering re-introducing masking guidelines for vaccinated people. Do you think that would be a good move? Speaker 2: 07:12 Well, I think we need to follow the science and I give great credit to the Biden administration for doing just that. Not trying to get in front of the data and what we know from everything that we have been briefed on in recent days is that the Delta variant while very concerning and, uh, you know, very problematic, uh, for people who are unvaccinated, nevertheless, for those that are vaccinated, it's far less of a risk. Uh, you do hear anecdotally, I have heard anecdotally about breakthrough cases, and we're all very concerned about that and want to do everything we can to mitigate that. But, uh, I will leave it to our house attending physician, Admiral Monahan, to the speaker, to house administration, to determine the path forward. At least it comes to the Capitol. And then as far as the white house goes, I would not, you know, get in the, in front of telling them how to run the white house, but I'm pretty sure they're going to follow the science just as they have been over the last several months. Speaker 1: 08:05 I'm just wondering what the sharp horizon cases are you giving any advice or urging your constituents to mascot? Speaker 2: 08:11 Well, it's interesting. We had our office opening this past Saturday, uh, opening a new campaign office in Carlsbad. Uh, and we, uh, did ask everybody there to be vaccinated, but in an abundance of caution, we had about 200 people there and virtually everyone decided to wear a mask. And I think everybody has to decide what's best for them, you know, particularly those with, uh, perhaps respiratory conditions or other, uh, compromised conditions, whether their immune system is compromised. Everybody has to make that determination. But I think the overwhelming point is that the vaccines are incredibly effective, including very effective against the Delta variant. So if anyone is listening to this and has not been vaccinated, I encourage you to do so right away, Speaker 1: 08:54 A effort that has fallen apart is the house commission to investigate the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol. Now with a commission made up of only Democrats and a couple of handpicked Republicans, do you think it's even worth moving forward on this investigation? Speaker 2: 09:11 We have to get to the truth of what happened on that day. And I give great credit to those republics, willing to stand up and talk about what actually occurred. Uh, Liz Cheney and others, uh, have echoed the need for a somber, uh, investigation where we get to the truth, uh, because there's still quite a bit that we don't know about that day. The New York times recently did a pretty detailed video recreation based on, uh, cell phone accounts and body cameras of what happened. And for me that raised more questions about the response, the, the, uh, time, the delay of a number of hours between when a insurrectionists originally breached the Capitol and, uh, when the national guard and others were able to retake the Capitol. And I was, uh, not far at all from, uh, the, the gallery I was in my office and one of the house office buildings. Speaker 2: 10:03 And honestly, to this day, I cannot believe that so many people were able to breach the Capitol in that manner. We have, have to do everything possible to understood what happened and also to do all we can to prevent it from happening again. And that's why it's so frustrating that we have yet to see the Senate take up our $2 billion plan to have the resources that the Capitol necessary for the Capitol police and others to prevent a similar incident from occurring in the future. We, we pass it in the house, we send it to the Senate and the Capitol police is about to run out of funding and they have failed to date two a and, and I think Mitch McConnell in particular has failed to recognize the gravity of the situation and work with Senate Democrats in a bipartisan way, on the very basic notion that the Capitol police should be funded and they need a supplemental appropriation to harder the security throughout the capital complex. So my hope is that they can put politics aside if justice once and get this done, because we cannot have another incident, uh, occur as occurred on January 6th. And we're going to learn more from this commission, uh, in a somber and serious way in the months ahead. I've Speaker 1: 11:13 Been speaking with Congressman Mike Levin, Congressman Levin. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you. It's always great to be with you.

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San Diego North County Congressman Mike Levin has announced the formation of a bipartisan congressional caucus to explore solutions to the spent nuclear waste problem.
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