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Rep. Levin Chairs New Nuclear Waste Caucus

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PHOTO BY SHALINA CHATLANI

Above: The now-defunct San Onofre Nuclear Power Station is pictured May 30, 2019.

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. Plus, this weekend in the arts: La Jolla Playhouse has a new play series, The Color Forty Nine performs at the Casbah and "On the Move” brings City Ballet back to audiences. And KPBS Roundtable covers the biggest stories of the past week, including Comic-Con returning with another virtual convention due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaker 1: 00:01 I knew bipartisan congressional caucus studies, where to store nuclear waste.

Speaker 2: 00:06 The, the creation of the caucus was one of the key recommendations made by the Santa Ana fray taskforce.

Speaker 1: 00:12 I'm Maureen Kavanaugh. This is KPBS day edition, a conversation with San Diego Congressman Mike Levin on his new caucus on nuclear waste. I'm the upcoming congressional investigation into the January 6th insurrection. And we'll have the weekend preview with highlights on ballet and new plays. That's ahead on midday edition. 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 Congressman Mike Levin and Congressman Levin. Welcome. Thanks so much for having me, you know, finding a place to store waste from San Antonio, Fran 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? Well,

Speaker 2: 01:57 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 these 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 Ana afraid taskforce 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: 02:58 Let's begin a new dialogue among members of Congress, Republicans, and Democrats. Uh, because as we know the environment around Santa, no fray 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: 03:56 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: 04:05 Well, 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, uh, 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 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: 04:56 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 not. And is

Speaker 1: 05:31 One of the goals of the spent nuclear fuel solutions caucus actually to select a spent storage disposal site.

Speaker 2: 05:38 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, 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 the, 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, uh, 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 and fray. And, you know, the canisters were not designed to be at these reactors 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.

Speaker 1: 06:57 This will also be exploring recycling, spent nuclear fuel. Where is the technology add on that? Do we know we

Speaker 2: 07:04 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, uh, 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.

Speaker 1: 07:55 Congressmen, 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: 08:13 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 for people who are unvaccinated, nevertheless, for, 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 to the capital. And then as far as the white house goes, I would not 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: 09:05 I'm just wondering what the sharp horizon cases are you giving any advice or urging your constituents to mask up again?

Speaker 2: 09:12 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: 09:55 Uh, a bipartisan 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: 10:11 We have to get to the truth of what happened on that day. And I give great credit to those Republicans willing to stand up and talk about what actually occurred. Uh, Liz Cheney and others, uh, have echoed the need for a somber investigation where we get to the truth, 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 a 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 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: 11:04 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 understand 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 at the Capitol necessary, uh, for the Capitol police and others to prevent a similar incident from occurring in the future. 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 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. They need a supplemental appropriation to harder the security throughout the Capitol complex. So my hope is that they can put politics aside if justice wants and get this done, because we cannot have another incident occur as occurred on January 2nd. Then we're going to learn more from this commission in a somber and serious way in the months ahead

Speaker 1: 12:14 Speaking with Congressman Mike Levin, Congressman Levin. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you. It's always great to be with you. This is KPBS midday edition. I'm worrying Kavanaugh. This weekend city ballet returns to the stage. There's a chance to check out brand new works of playwriting in person at the LA Jolla Playhouse. There is an art exhibition made of plants and a collaboration of visual art and music at the Casbah joining me with all the details as KPBS arts editor and producer Julia Dixon Evans, and welcome Julia.

Speaker 3: 12:58 Hi Maureen. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 1: 13:00 So city ballet kicks off their new season this weekend. Tell us about these shows. This

Speaker 3: 13:05 Is not only the first in-person season for them after what's been a pretty productive virtual pandemic season, but it's also their first ever season in the summer. It's usually an off season or a festival season or teaching season for dancers. So this seems like a nice gift for the dancers, as well as for the audiences and kind of to celebrate that each of the shows this weekend, we'll have a reception outdoors with the dancers and the whole company as well.

Speaker 1: 13:34 And what will they be performing?

Speaker 3: 13:37 So they're doing two new pieces. There's choreography by their own Jeff Gonzalez, who he often does really emotive and powerful stuff for them. And city ballet does this blend of classical and contemporary ballet from everything, the choreography, the costumes, and the music choices. So one of these pieces this weekend is called unbroken, which is about resiliency. And the other is within the hourglass desert, which is a reflection on time. I've seen tiny bits of rehearsals for these two pieces and they look really fantastic.

Speaker 1: 14:11 Okay. City ballet returns to the stage with two shows at the Horton grand theater downtown tonight and Saturday night at seven 30, the LA Jolla Playhouse is offering free performances. This weekend, part of their DNA new works series. So Julia, what can we expect?

Speaker 3: 14:29 DNA new works. That's a two week festival and it just kicked off this weekend. They're doing readings of four new plays onsite at the Playhouse. And this weekend's works, include Sumo by Elisa SNIA Drang. Sumo is set in S Sumo wrestling training center, and it follows six men who have who've committed to this tradition, this lifestyle. And there's another play. All the men who frightened me by no ideas. This one is a Playhouse commission, and the story follows tie the main character. Uh, when his wife finds out that she can't get pregnant, Ty decides to wean himself off of his testosterone to carry the baby himself. And many of the characters in the story are actually in the forms of hauntings of men from their past

Speaker 1: 15:20 The DNA new work series runs through next weekend. This weekend, all the men who frightened me takes place tonight at seven 30 and Saturday at 2:00 PM. And Sumo is Saturday night at seven 30. Now for green thumb art lovers, you're recommending an unconventional solo exhibition in a new spot for the more unconventional side of art. Tell us about what's on view at trash Lam gallery.

Speaker 3: 15:47 Yeah, this isn't a shopping gallery in south park. And right now they're showing work by artists Britton, new backer. She's a former dancer and also has roots in the punk and DIY scene and not necessarily in the trained art world, but what she does is these incredible sculptures. They use things from the natural world like animals and plants, and she'll build these incredibly intricate sculptures using succulents planted into skulls, like a, like a form of plant taxidermy and at the gallery, there's fine. Art photographs of these sculptures. Plus some of the actual sculptures. One is this massive piece with mosses and grasses and then tiny bones and teeth sticking out. Also, the gallery has a stack of magnifying glasses, so you can get way up close to see all the details,

Speaker 1: 16:38 Britain new Becker's exhibition in the middle between this and that guardians of the fertile void is on view through August 8th, trash Lam gallery is open Thursday through Saturday, noon to six and Friday noon to five in the music world. The band, the color 49 is holding a record release show tonight at the Casbah, but there's a special visual art connection here. Tell us about their new animated music video,

Speaker 3: 17:05 The color 49. They worked with two collaborators from, from Mexico on a song, musician, Ruben Allbritton, and then border artists. You go CrossFit. I just profiled CrossFit this week. He's one of the recipients of the 2021 San Diego art prize. And his work is great. He's a draftsman. So everything he does is drawing. He's very improvisational, meaning he has a general idea of what he's doing, but the process of making the art informs a lot of these details. One of these trademarks is stop motion animations. They use the process as a part of the story. In fact, he won the Smithsonian national portrait gallery competition in 2019 for an animated portrait. He did of migrant his work, really challenges. The idea that visual art has to be static. Uh, you go across me illustrated and animated this song. What would I know for the color 49? He used a handheld camera to take something like 700 photos per drawing. And it kind of looks like a ghost is drawing them on the page. I talked to CrossFit a little about this process and what inspired the video.

Speaker 4: 18:13 Just be reading the lyrics immediately. I could already see if the video, no, I can see the imagery that I wanted this idea of how, um, you know, in a way, love is interrupted by this border and then love always triumphs over the border, but then the border comes back. And so then it's, there's this idea of this disgusting struggle of things, trying to come together and then being torn apart by this very geometric element of, of a line of a border. The color

Speaker 1: 18:43 49 will perform at the Casbah tonight in a fundraiser for the museum school doors open at eight 30 and the performances begin at nine 30 they're music video for what would I know a collaboration with artists, Ugo Crossway is out on all platforms today for details on these and more arts events and to sign up for Julia's weekly arts newsletter, go to kpbs.org/arts. I've been speaking with KPBS arts editor and producer Julia Dixon Evans, and as always, thank you, Julia. Thank you, Maureen. Have a great weekend.

Speaker 5: 20:47 [inaudible].

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KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.