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The utter complexity of Moving Nuclear Waste Out of San Diego

North County Report: The Head-Spinning Complexity of Moving Nuclear Waste Out of San Diego, Voice of San Diego, 9 Jan 19 

The clock is ticking on attempts to find a suitable destination for nuclear waste from the decommissioned San Onofre power station north of Oceanside, and Carlsbad is sending a new representative to SANDAG.   What to do with the spent nuclear fuel at the decommissioned San Onofre power station north of Oceanside — let’s just call it “waste” — is an important question. But I hadn’t spent much time thinking about it because it seemed remote and abstract……

 lots of people have lots ideas about what to do with the millions of pounds of nuclear waste in San Diego County sitting, as the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation put it, “100 feet from the shoreline, on a receding bluff, near a fault line … next to the one of the nation’s busiest freeways, and within roughly 50 miles of the densely populated City of San Diego.”

Everyone with a stake in San Onofre seems to agree today that the waste shouldn’t be there, especially as the Pacific Ocean creeps closer. But moving the waste inland is politically difficult because it requires buy-in from outside communities and action at the federal level.

“We have maybe a year to work on this,” said David Victor, a UCSD professor international relations and chair of a San Onofre community engagement panel, “then the presidential election will shut down the conversation.”

Southern California Edison, the station’s majority owner, has long maintained that the waste is safe and being properly stored. Earlier this week, a nonprofit estimated that a major release of radiation on the site could cause upwards of $13 trillion in economic damage…..

San Onofre was closed and then decommissioned in 2013 after the detection of a small radiation leak. When the station’s owners got permission from the California Coastal Commission in 2015 to begin burying the waste in dry bunkers on the beach, they cited a lack of off-site places willing to take it. Several groups filed suit and the owners agreed in 2017 to move the canisters away from the Pacific Ocean. Eventually. And pending the development of a federally approved facility, possibly in New Mexico, Texas or Arizona.

There’s been a growing sense of urgency in recent months, and not just among activist kombucha sellers. Although no one was hurt, an incident in August has given plenty of cause for concern.

Workers at the station were loading a nuclear canister into a bunker when it got wedged near the top and remained that way for about 45 minutes, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Eventually the workers readjusted and lowered the canister the remaining 18 feet.

SoCal Edison told regulators about the incident the following business day, but the public didn’t learn of it until a contractor blew the whistle at a later community meeting. In response, an independent nuclear expert told the U-T that although the incident posed no threat to public, the station was “tempting fate.”

Even the station’s chief nuclear operator said the incident was unacceptable and suspended the transfer of nuclear fuel from cooling pools into dry bunkers on the San Onofre site. He has also acknowledged a second, previously unreported incident, in July, when workers encountered trouble lowering another canister into place. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected soon to hand down a punishment.

Meanwhile, according to the U-T, former San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre, who sued San Onofre’s owners in 2015, is asking the FBI to investigate whether the handling of nuclear waste by a SoCal Edison contractor rises to the level of a criminal violation.

So, Where’s the Nuclear Waste Supposed to Go?

Last year, the U.S. House passed a bill intending to redevelop permanent storage at Yucca Mountain, in Nevada, which had already received billions in investment but had been stalled under the Obama administration thanks to Sen. Harry Reid. That bill had the support of then-Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican whose district included San Onofre, and was meant to appease lawmakers who were reluctant to hold the waste before it went to the final destination.

In bureaucratic-speak, these facilities are known as “interim storage.”……….

There are dozens of sites across the country where waste is accumulating with nowhere to go…….


January 12, 2019 - Posted by | USA, wastes

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