July 22, 2021

San Diego Union-Tribune: San Diego Rep. Levin forms bipartisan caucus for safe disposal of nuclear fuel waste

Levin will work with colleagues to find sites for the spent radioactive fuel, including from San Onofre

Rep. Mike Levin Wednesday announced the formation of a Spent Nuclear Fuels Solutions Caucus in Congress to guide the disposal of nuclear waste from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and other power plants around the United States.

The radioactive material is being held in temporary storage around the country, including at San Onofre.

“The current issue of spent nuclear fuel is simply not sustainable,” said Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano. “It is also a violation of the promise, codified decades ago, that the federal government would take title to the waste in return for ratepayers’ contributions to the Nuclear Waste Fund.”

Levin is forming the bipartisan caucus with Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Illinois, who has led efforts to maintain nuclear power capacity in Illinois. Levin said the group will explore options for dismantling, transporting and storing spent nuclear fuel, but it isn’t advocating a particular alternative at this time.

“It’s a forum for members who care about spent nuclear fuel issues,” Levin said. “The purpose of the caucus is not to elevate one preferred solution or policy proposal over others.”

Levin’s interest in nuclear fuel disposal is tied to the dilemma facing the San Onofre station, known as SONGS, located in the 49th Congressional District covering parts of north San Diego and south Orange County. The facility ceased operation in late 2012 after a leak in a faulty steam generator tube forced the plant to close.

San Diego California Edison began decommissioning the plant in 2013, but without a long-term repository, the spent fuel is now stored in 123 canisters on the plant’s premises on the coast, about 20 miles north of Oceanside. The 1,600 tons of spent nuclear fuel is located 100 feet from the Pacific Ocean, near seismic fault lines and within a 50-mile radius of 9 million people, Levin said.

The scenario at San Onofre is similar to what is happening at 80 locations in 34 states, he said.

“Ultimately we have to work toward consent-based solutions where we can find a permanent geological repository where waste can be disposed of,” Levin said. “We can’t leave the waste where it currently sits.

In 1987, federal authorities designated Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. In 2009, the Obama Administration cut off funds for the facility in response to opposition by local elected leaders and the Western Shoshone people, who raised concerns about environmental safety and tribal authority.

Levin said the caucus will seek consent from neighboring communities before it commits to a site.

“I want to respect the will of my friends in Nevada,” he said. “Obviously you want to minimize any potential harm to people or the natural environment.”

Caucus members will pursue interim facilities that can hold the material for decades, Levin said; possible sites in Texas and New Mexico are under consideration by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Levin said there will be economic opportunities for communities willing to temporarily store waste in secure facilities, but there also are likely to be challenges.

“You’re always going to have people opposed to anything you do,” he said. “There is no such thing as a perfect disposition for this waste.”

Besides developing plans to dispose of nuclear waste, the caucus could explore methods of recycling spent fuel for use in other reactors, he said.

By:  Deborah Sullivan Brennan
Source: San Diego Union-Tribune