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Nuclear waste from San Onofre would get first dibs for relocation under new bill

  • May 24, 2019 6:39 am GMT
Orange County Register

May 23-- May 23--A congressional bill that would prioritize the removal of nuclear waste from places with high population and high seismic activity -- that is, San Onofre -- was introduced Thursday, May 23, by U.S. Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano.

Some 9 million people live within 50 miles of the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station. About 20 million live within 50 miles of New York's Indian Point reactors, which are about to be decommissioned.

But San Onofre's perch in Southern California -- near the Rose Canyon, Newport-Inglewood and myriad other earthquake faults -- would push it to the top of the to-do list if the legislation passes and the U.S. Department of Energy finally finds a home for the millions of pounds of nuclear waste now scattered at 75 commercial reactor sites around the country.

"The spent nuclear fuel at San Onofre faces unique and precarious challenges," Levin said in a prepared statement. "My top priority is protecting my constituents from a potential accident at San Onofre, and the safest thing for the communities I represent is to remove spent nuclear fuel from the region quickly and safely."

A recent seismic study of the ocean floor off San Onofre found that the Newport-Inglewood/Rose Canyon fault zone runs from Newport Beach to La Jolla, and is broken into four segments separated by "step overs" that aren't big enough to block a fracture along its entire length.

"Theoretically, the Newport-Inglewood-Rose Canyon fault could rupture end to end, from La Jolla up to Newport Beach, with a maximum earthquake of 7.3," said Neal Driscoll, professor of geosciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, when he presented his study in 2017. "That's a pretty good-sized earthquake."

San Onofre's shuttered reactors were designed to withstand a magnitude-7 quake five miles away -- or peak ground acceleration of 0.67 Gs (as in, G forces). The dry storage systems for the radioactive waste -- which will remain on site for many years -- are more than twice as robust, designed to withstand peak ground acceleration of 1.5 Gs, officials said.

Finding a home for nuclear waste is the federal government's problem.

Nuclear power was once viewed as the nation's future, and Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 to encourage its development. The federal government promised to accept and dispose of spent commercial nuclear fuel and high-level waste by Jan. 31, 1998; in return, the utilities that owned the plants made quarterly payments into a disposal fund.

Utility customers pumped about $750 million a year into the fund, which is now valued at more than $40 billion. The feds, however, have not accepted an ounce of commercial nuclear waste for permanent disposal.

Optimists hope that the paralysis will pass with the approval of temporary storage sites in Texas and New Mexico. But that is uncertain.

Southern California Edison, which is in charge of the San Onofre decommissioning, said it's working on the difficult issues related to relocating the waste, and that more than 80 percent of San Onofre's fuel canisters will be eligible for transport by 2021.

Levin's request for $25 million for consolidated interim storage was approved by the House Appropriations Committee.

The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Democratic Reps. Katie Porter, Irvine; Harley Rouda, Newport Beach; Alan Lowenthal, Long Beach; Scott Peters, Juan Vargas and Susan Davis, San Diego; Jared Huffman, San Rafael; Salud Carbajal, Santa Barbara; and Suzanne Bonamici, D-Oegon.


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