San Diego Union-Tribune: Congressman Levin forms a task force to study moving, storing San Onofre's nuclear waste

January 29, 2019
In The News

Newly elected Rep. Mike Levin has organized a task force to consider how millions of pounds of radioactive waste from the shuttered San Onofre nuclear plant can be safely stored in coming years — or moved far away from the coast.

Levin, who was elected in November to the 49th District congressional seat previously held by Rep. Darrell Issa, named a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral and a former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman as co-leaders of the task force.

“It is imperative that people who live around the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station have a voice in the future of the facility,” said Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, in a statement. “A worst-case scenario disaster at San Onofre would be devastating for millions of people. We cannot allow the status quo to continue indefinitely, which is why we must find new solutions to deal with the grave safety challenges we face.”

Southern California Edison, which co-owns the closed power plant with minority partner San Diego Gas & Electric, said it welcomed additional oversight of the radioactive waste.

“The congressman and SCE share common ground in a desire to have the spent fuel at the San Onofre nuclear plant moved to a permanent geologic repository or a consolidated interim storage site,” Edison spokesman John Dobken said in an email.

The task force will be chaired by retired Rear Admiral Leendert “Len” Hering Sr. and Gregory Jaczko, a former NRC chairman. The panel, which also will include other stakeholders and experts, is scheduled to convene its first meeting next month.

There may be 15 to 20 people on the task force, but Levin is not seeking applications, said Eric Mee, spokesman for Levin.

“I know there are no easy solutions, but I am confident that Congressman Levin’s task force will play a key role in moving the ball forward,”Jaczko said in a statement.

The committee is expected to review storage operations at the nuclear plant as well as Edison’s efforts to relocate 3.6 million pounds of spent fuel from the north San Diego County shoreline.

The plant closed in 2012 after newly installed steam generators failed. It was shut permanently the following year. Now it is in the decommissioning process, and the spent fuel is being moved from cooling pools into what’s known as dry storage.

The transfer process was suspended in August after one of the 50-ton canisters was mistakenly wedged inside its storage cavity, 18 feet above the bottom.

Federal regulators are considering penalties against Edison for the August mishap and other violations. The utility has not yet been permitted to resume the waste transfers.

The panel will study ways to improve safety if and when the transfer process restarts.

“Failure to act is not an option, and I am determined to drive solutions as a co-chair of the task force,” Hering said in a statement.

Critics of the storage plan praised Levin for making the nuclear waste issue at San Onofre a priority.

“Congressman Levin is the first elected official to come forward with a commitment to move the waste to a safer location,” said San Diego attorney Michael Aguirre, who sued Edison over its handling of the spent fuel.

“All of us -- community leaders, elected officials, the NRC, and SCE -- need to unify behind a plan openly made,” he said. “We must disentangle ourselves from old thinking and work together with open minds.”

Charles Langley, of the Public Watchdogs nonprofit advocacy group, said the task force will bring more attention to the hazards posed by burying the waste in dry-storage canisters on the beach.

“We are hopeful that Congressman Levin's task force will help build awareness of the imminent hazards posed by the San Onofre nuclear waste dump and that it will use its influence to facilitate viable solutions,” he said.

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