By Eric Heinz

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) and Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) stated they have introduced the latest bill to allow for interim storage of spent nuclear fuel, according to a press release distributed Thursday afternoon, Jan. 12.

The bill is intended to amend the Nuclear Waste Storage Act. For Issa, it would allow for the removal of spent fuel planned to be stored on-site at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station just south of San Clemente. For Conaway, it could bring the storage to his district at the company Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas, he stated in the release.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)

The fuel would be considered stored in the interim because it is the responsibility of the Department of Energy to find a permanent home for it.

This is at least the third time Issa has been a sponsor or co-sponsor of a bill related to consolidated interim nuclear storage. The Interim Consolidated Storage Acts of 2015 and 2016 died before passing the House.

The bill would give the Secretary of Energy the ability to enact and modify contracts with facilities that are capable and have a permit to store the fuel until the department finds a permanent location.

“Until we can get temporary and—ideally—permanent storage facilities open, nuclear waste will remain on-site more than 120 different sites nationwide,” Issa said. “…(T)he San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station houses more than 3.6 million pounds of nuclear material right on the coast, along a fault line, on one of the largest U.S. military bases, in the heart of one of our most densely populated communities. Allowing it to stay there indefinitely is only asking for trouble.”

Conaway stated in the release that the inability to store the fuel temporarily is the result of an “outdated law and bureaucratic inefficiencies.”

Most of that fuel is currently in cooling tanks or “wet storage.” At various meetings, officials from Southern California Edison, the majority stakeholder in SONGS, said the fuel is most safe when it is stored in casks, or “dry storage.”

Edison has been awarded a permit by the California Coastal Commission to store the fuel on-site at the bluffs near San Onofre State Beach. Edison awarded a contract to Holtec International in 2015 to store the fuel in the casks it manufactures.

“This legislation allows the Department of Energy to cut through the red tape and enter into contracts with these licensed facilities, such as the one in Andrews, ensuring that nuclear waste will be properly stored until a permanent site is established,” Conaway said in the press release.

Calvin Moore, a spokesperson for Issa’s office, said the bill is the same as the past two years, but he said it could have a better chance at moving forward since the discussions about interim storage are growing, and the change in representatives in Congress could help support Issa and Conaway’s bill.

“It’s clear that there’s going to be a few things working in tandem in finding places that want to accept the waste,” Moore said.

Moore said the Department of Energy’s plan to implement a consent-based siting process, which means the facilities would have to consent to storing the fuel rather than being ordered to by the federal government, should also help further the bill’s passage.

Southern California Edison sent a statement to the San Clemente Times regarding the bill on Friday morning, Jan. 13.

“Southern California Edison supports efforts to move forward with off-site storage for used nuclear fuel, including proposed sites in New Mexico and Texas that are addressed by the legislation introduced in Congress this week,” the statement read. “The San Onofre Community Engagement Panel, established by SCE to serve as a liaison to the community during decommissioning of San Onofre, has formally asked the California Energy Commission to advocate for interim storage options that expedite removing the used nuclear fuel from San Onofre.”

The Department of Energy is currently accepting comments on its interim storage program.

People may submit their comments to the plan at https://energy.gov/ne/downloads/consent-based-siting-process. The comment period is open until April 14.

The bill does not have a number yet, and it does not yet appear to be entered into the U.S. Congress online database. Moore said it should be available at www.congress.gov in a day or two, but the bill can also be accessed by clicking here: Interim Consolidated Storage Act of 2017 . The next Community Engagement Panel meeting, which is hosted by Southern California Edison, is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 16. Visit www.songscommunity.com for more information.

Article updated 11 a.m. Friday, Jan. 13, to include comments from Southern California Edison. 

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