Article updated at 2:47 p.m. on Wednesday, June 28
By Eric Heinz
The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce voted to advance a bill today introduced by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Illinois, that would make it easier to move spent nuclear waste from the shores of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).
The bill, called the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, would amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, and would allow the Department of Energy to enter into contracts with temporary storage providers while a permanent repository is found or constructed. Current legislation does now allow for temporary storage of such energy.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, who represents San Clemente, had introduced an initial bill.
— Darrell Issa (@DarrellIssa) June 28, 2017
“The move today makes clear that the last 30 years of obstruction over any and every plan to get nuclear waste out of our communities is over,” Issa stated in a press release. “For years, I have been fighting to ensure the federal government upholds its end of the deal and takes the nuclear waste from SONGS and places it into the safe storage site the ratepayers are owed and have paid for. Today, I’m glad to see these hard-fought efforts are beginning to pay off.”
Issa had introduced similar bills in 2015 and 2016, but neither made it past House committees.
Some of the amendments to the bill today would provide $50 million or 10 percent of the appropriated amounts from the Nuclear Waste Fund to provide interim storage facilities for fiscal years 2020 through 2025.
It would allow the Secretary of Energy to enter into an agreement with companies to provide interim storage of spent nuclear waste, whether the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to reopen Yucca Mountain moves forward or is denied.
The bill also would enforce the Department of Energy to “uphold its responsibility to take ownership of spent fuel and for transportation to a storage facility,” Issa’s press release stated.
The bill prioritizes removing waste from shuttered plants, like SONGS, and “clarifies regulatory and permitting requirements related to the development of a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain,” the release stated.
In President Donald Trump’s Blueprint Budget, $120 million is to be allocated toward finding solutions for nuclear storage, particularly Yucca Mountain.
Issa office spokesman Calvin Moor in Washington, D.C., said as the bill is moving quickly through Legislature, the schedule for when it could be heard on the House floor may be soon. The bill was recommended to the committee just two days before its introduction.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the next steps are announced soon, given that this is a joint effort of the chairman and the committee, and the Senate’s effort on this as well,” Moore said.
A date for when the bill will be heard of the House floor has not yet been determined.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, made optimistic statements about the bill following the committee’s approval.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, has also been working toward what’s being heralded as bipartisan legislation on nuclear energy safety.
“The United States desperately needs a comprehensive nuclear waste policy. We simply cannot allow spent nuclear fuel to remain indefinitely at sites scattered throughout the country, stored at taxpayer expense, awaiting a clear path forward,” Feinstein was quoted saying in a 2015 press release.
Yucca Mountain was supposed to be the permanent storage facility for the spent fuel, but those plans fell through and it appeared SONGS would not have anywhere to store it. The Department of Energy is responsible for the permanent storage of the fuel. The fuel is in radioactive rods that are currently housed in a cooling pool and are planned to be stored in canisters not far from the coastline.
The California Coastal Commission approved an application from Southern California Edison in 2015, the majority stakeholder and operator of SONGS, to store the fuel on-site. Since then, there has been public outcry against the temporary storage at the nuclear power plant’s campus in northern San Diego County, just south of San Clemente.
- Read more about the history in “SONGS Hearing: How We Got Here, Where It Could Go”
The Coastal Commission is expected to have an informal discussion about the storage of the fuel in Malibu in August.
Citizens Oversight, an activist group in San Diego, sued the Coastal Commission for its approval of the permit, claiming that the proper procedures to approve it were not met. Citizens Oversight and the Commission have entered settlement talks, the details of which have not been made public.
Ronald O. Nichols, Southern California Edison president, distributed a statement on Wednesday afternoon.
“As the owners of operating and decommissioned commercial nuclear power plants in California, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) commend efforts in Congress to advance off-site storage for spent nuclear fuel at permanent and interim storage facilities,” Nichols said in the release. “We are encouraged to see the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act progress out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee today, and look forward to the Senate re-introduction of the Nuclear Waste Administration Act, co-authored by Senator Feinstein.”
Nichols said fuel that is already stored on-site by at SONGS and that the storage methods “are safe and secure,” but that “our customers should not have to bear this cost burden. The federal government made a commitment to accept and store spent fuel and it is important to our customers, and our host communities, that the government fulfills this commitment. We look forward to working with the House and Senate to advance these efforts this Congress.”
Nichols also said he is in support of reopening the licensing process at Yucca Mountain for spent nuclear fuel storage.
“We commend Congresswoman Matsui for her amendment to authorize a pilot interim storage facility for acceptance of priority spent nuclear fuel from permanently decommissioned reactors, and Senator Feinstein for her leadership and history advancing this effort in the Senate,” Nichols stated.
Article updated to include comments from Southern California Edison.