KPBS: Congressman Levin Proposes Bill To Tackle San Onofre Nuclear Storage

April 16, 2019
In The News

By: Claire Trageser

Congressman Mike Levin on Tuesday waded into the ongoing dilemma over what to do about the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

The process of storing spent fuel there is on hold after an incident last summer where one of the fuel canisters almost dropped 18 feet. Plus, there's still no answer for what to ultimately do with the spent fuel.

Levin, who represents the 49th district that includes San Onofre, toured the station on Tuesday and announced he plans to propose a bill that would tackle part of the problem.

His bill, which he called Spent Fuel Prioritization, would decide when spent fuel is collected from the country’s various nuclear sites.

Right now, the oldest sites are first in line. Instead, Levin proposes prioritizing sites that are in the process of decommissioning, in densely populated areas, and are at highest risk for earthquakes. He said that would put San Onofre at the top of the list.

"I don't think there is any other site in the United States that has the seismic risk, the population density, and is a decommissioning site," he said. "I'm fairly certain we're the only site quite like it."

But even if Levin's bill were passed, there is no permanent place for the spent fuel to go, and no spent fuel is being collected.

Congressman Harley Rouda, who represents the 48th district just north of San Onofre, said the federal government has failed in its planning by only having one site for storing spent fuel.

"We put all of our eggs in one basket on Yucca Mountain and going forward we have to identify more than one site to address the issue," he said.

Levin and other lawmakers also sent a letter asking the federal government for $25 million to create an interim storage program for nuclear waste from across the country.

He said he will propose his bill when he returns to Washington D.C. and expects it will have bipartisan support.

Levin and Rouda also received an update on how Southern California Edison, which owns San Onofre, plans to fix the issues that led to the canister dropping incident.

"I do think that Edison, as a result of that incident, has improved its safety policies and procedures, that was a big part of what we discussed this morning with them," Levin said.

Ron Pontes, a Southern California Edison employee who oversees the decommissioning process, said that right now about one-third of the fuel is stored in temporary on-site facilities, but that there needs to be a permanent repository.

He did not know when the storage process would start up again but said when it does, it should take 6 to 10 months to complete.

Levin said the best case scenario is that San Onofre would be closed and cleared of waste in 10 years, but that's assuming his bill is passed to give San Onofre priority, and it assumes the federal government immediately finds a place for the waste to go.