Panel hears bids for storage of nuclear waste

REGION — Southern California Edison’s (SCE) Community Engagement Panel met on Oct. 14 to hear bids from the two final companies vying to create storage for nuclear waste at the decommissioned San Onofre Power Plant. The storage casks will hold radioactive waste on-site, perhaps indefinitely.

The Community Engagement Panel does not make decisions on the plant’s decommissioning. Its meetings serve as a public window into the process.

Volunteer panel members take their task of “asking the important questions” seriously. Prior requests from the panel to truly understand the cask selection process prompted the Oct. 14 meeting.

Maureen Brown, SCE spokeswoman, said the opportunity to hear companies make their bids publicly is unprecedented.

Following presentations by AREVA Inc. and Holtec International, panel members and the public had an opportunity to ask questions.

Gene Stone, panel member and representative of Residents Organized For a Safe Environment, said each company had its strengths. Holtec presented a below-ground vertical storage system. AREVA shared an above-ground horizontal system to store nuclear waste.

AREVA also manufactured the 51 casks that are presently in use on the site.

An additional 101 casks will be purchased to dry store nuclear waste, which is now cooling in holding pools.

Stone said he would research claims made by both companies.

“We want nuclear materials to be stored properly, and in the safest way possible,” Stone said.

He added he still has questions on the redundancy built into the storage systems if something fails.

“The nuclear industry had to be built on the defense in depth method, to catch something from getting away with a response,” Stone said. “That’s not how we’ve been storing nuclear waste.”

Brown said multiple layers of defense in design are built into the dry cask structures.

Casks presently in use are licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Agency for 20 years, and built to last 100 years. Moving the waste off site may not happen for 299 years.

Southern California Edison will diligently review manufacturers’ bids, and select a company by the end of next month.

Once a contract is finalized, and casks are built and delivered, the two-year process of moving nuclear waste from storage pools into permanent dry storage will begin. The goal is to have all nuclear material in dry casks by 2019, and some day relocate it off site, under the watch of the U.S. Department of Energy.

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