REGION — California Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) wants spent nuclear fuel out of the 36th district as soon as possible.
Bates, together with Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), introduced a resolution in Sacramento last week urging the United States Congress and President Donald Trump to approve legislation that would prioritize removing spent nuclear fuel from decommissioned nuclear plants in areas with large populations and high seismic risks.
Specifically, the legislation targets sites like the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), located within Bates’ district. Monning has the currently operating Diablo Canyon Power Plant in his district.
Together, their resolution urges the passage of U.S. Rep. Mike Levin’s (D-San Juan Capistrano) Spent Fuel Prioritization Act of 2019. The goal is to hasten the process of removing California’s nuclear waste, particularly from San Onofre, and take it to “safer locations.”
Levin announced he was introducing the bill back in April at SONGS immediately after touring the facility. The bill is now waiting on a markup by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce after the committee held a hearing on the bill in June.
As previously reported, the bill would require the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to consider three criteria when selecting sites to remove spent nuclear fuel from first, and then transport that fuel to either an interim or permanent storage facility. The three criteria give priority to sites that are decommissioned, have high population densities surrounding them and have high earthquake risk.
“It’s critically important that we get the waste at San Onofre off of our beach, away from fault lines and millions of nearby residents,” said Levin in a statement provided to The Coast News.
Nuclear waste is the federal government’s responsibility, yet it still doesn’t have a permanent repository for such hazardous materials.
Yucca Mountain was established as the nation’s geologic repository for high-level nuclear waste back in 1987.
In 2008, the DOE submitted an application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to begin construction of the facility on desert property owned by the federal government about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Opposition by Nevada residents has stalled progress on the facility.
Bates also noted the federal government may be slow to act because of concerns from various municipalities about how nuclear waste would be transported through their communities to a site outside the state.
Despite its challenges, Bates said she believes the federal government “can find a way.”
“Unless they get serious about it which Levin is pushing with this bill, it isn’t going to happen,” she said. “We need to take it off the shelf and put it in front for discussion.”
The Trump administration has expressed interest in reviving the Yucca Mountain project, but strong opposition still exists against that plan. In the meantime, The NRC is currently considering two proposed Consolidated Interim Storage (CIS) facilities in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and Andrews, Texas.
Southern California Edison (SCE) resumed transferring spent nuclear fuel from wet to dry storage at the SONGS’ beachfront facility in mid-July. As previously reported, SCE stopped fuel transfer after an incident on Aug. 3, 2018, when a canister containing spent fuel got stuck during the downloading process into the dry storage cavity enclosure container.
Bates, a Republican, said the issue of expediting the removal spent nuclear fuel is a bipartisan one.
“A horrible incident or natural disaster doesn’t have an ‘R’ or a ‘D,’ it affects us all,” she said. “We must all be in it together to put pressure on the federal government.”
Levin told The Coast News he is “glad to see that this issue is being addressed at all levels of government,” and that he will continue to work with Bates and other local officials on the matter.
Photo Caption: San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) remains a polarizing entity since its construction in 1968. Courtesy photo
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son