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Rep. Levin seeks funding to hasten nuclear waste removal

REGION — U.S. Rep. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano) along with several other congress members want to expedite the removal of spent nuclear fuel from San Onofre and other decommissioning nuclear plants across the country.

Levin and 14 other congress members sent a letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development urging them to fund activities that will speed up removing spent nuclear fuel from decommissioning plants like the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).

Currently, spent nuclear fuel is stored in a facility on the SONGS site, which has been a hot-button issue for many of the region’s residents.

In March, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) imposed a $116,000 civil penalty to Southern California Edison for two violations of federal requirements at SONGS.

The violations relate to Edison’s handling of an Aug. 3, 2018, incident after a stainless steel Holtec canister containing 50 tons of spent nuclear fuel rods got stuck on a shield ring as it was lowered into a concrete vault.

The congress members’ letter calls for $25 million in federal funding to support the development of a consolidated interim storage program at the Department of Energy (DOE) and assist with site preparation activities and regional transportation.

Congress members are requesting $10 million for the initiation of such a program, another $10 million for site preparation activities to prepare for moving spent nuclear fuel to interim storage facilities, and $5 million to support DOE’s efforts for transportation coordination.

Other congress members from California who signed the letter include Democratic Reps. Doris Matsui, Ami Bera, Tony Cárdenas, Salud Carbajal, Jerry McNerney, Harley Rouda and Scott Peters.

According to the letter, the federal government has been found by the courts to be in partial breach of a contractual obligation to remove spent nuclear fuel beginning in January 1998 as created by the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

The DOE has estimated the resulting impact on taxpayers could reach or exceed $30.8 billion assuming the department is in a position to begin meetings its obligation with a pilot consolidated storage facility in 2021.

“Any delay in this schedule will only increase the Department’s liabilities,” the letter states.

According to the letter, the funds are paid out of a permanent appropriations account called the “Judgment Fund,” and add to the federal deficit without the benefit of budget or appropriations considerations.

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget for the DOE requests “robust” funding to address spent nuclear fuel vita an interim storage program, which could help with the startup of a consolidated interim storage program within DOE that would initially focus on accepting spent nuclear fuel from shutdown reactors.

The letter notes the NRC is currently conducting a multiyear technical review on two interim storage facility applications to ensure the facilities up to standards.

“Our constituents have waited patiently for action on this matter, and it is past time that we end the continued stalemate that is wasteful of taxpayer resources and detrimental to the redevelopment of these sites in our communities,” the letter states. 

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