By C. Jayden Smith
With the window closing Friday, March 4, to submit input on the U.S. Department of Energy’s ongoing efforts to develop a consent-based siting process for storing the nation’s spent nuclear fuel (SNF), the nation must move onto the next part of solving the decades-long issue.
On the local front, the City of San Clemente may soon take an active role in determining whether it wants SNF to remain close to the town’s limits.
Near the end of the City Council’s previous meeting on March 1, Mayor Pro Tem Chris Duncan stressed the importance of ensuring other entities around the state and the country know the city’s position.
His comments came as the DOE continues to look for communities to host an interim storage facility that would contain radioactive waste from multiple decommissioned nuclear plants.
“Other cities have started doing resolutions that emphasize, ‘We don’t want an interim facility at the current nuclear generating station,’” Duncan said, adding that he knew San Clemente was in the same boat. “We don’t want (the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station) to become an interim storage location, by default or otherwise.”
Citing a similar resolution passed by the Del Mar City Council on Feb. 22, he asked for support to direct staff to draft a resolution to make “very clear” that the city will not agree to any temporary storage at SONGS and that it will support efforts to move the waste to other areas.
Mayor Gene James and Councilmember Kathy Ward backed the motion, with Ward asking that any resolution be tied into previous ones on the same subject.
Duncan is also a member of the SONGS Community Engagement Panel, a group of local officials who meets quarterly to help guide the community surrounding San Onofre in the decommissioning process.
The CEP received a briefing on Feb. 10 from Dr. Kimberly Petry, a DOE staff member of both the Office of Spent Fuel and Waste Disposition and the Office of Integrated Waste Management. Petry described the department’s initiative for off-site interim storage, including the request for information (RFI) that closed Friday.
“We’re going to use this feedback that we received from the RFI to develop a federal interim storage program that uses consent-based siting to work with willing host communities,” she said. “While this RFI is specifically focused on interim storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel, we expect to learn from the RFI to apply (to) siting permanent disposal facilities in the future.”
Petry added that the department is developing a draft for the consent-based siting process, clarifying a strategy for an integrated waste management system, and will issue a funding opportunity for interested groups and communities later in 2022.
David Victor, CEP chair, concluded in an interview with the San Clemente Times on March 7 that DOE has the resources necessary to pursue siting in a manner unlike previous years and that its RFI will provide a boost.
Victor, who is also a professor of innovation and public policy at the University of California, San Diego, is particularly worried about “stewardship” with the communities around San Onofre that did not sign up for permanent waste storage.
“My concern is the larger relationship with these local communities and we need to find a way to do right by that,” he said. “What I hear meeting after meeting after meeting at these Community Engagement Panel sessions, is a lot of people in the local communities are worried about exactly the same thing.”
Within his knowledge, the next steps will include DOE releasing its observations from the information submitted through the RFI and a possible invitation to communities to nominate themselves as potential host facilities.
Victor also referenced existing movements to establish temporary sites in New Mexico and Texas, although those have received resistance.
There has been a consistent group of San Clemente residents who have expressed concern to Duncan regarding the issue and are frustrated with the length of the siting process, which was a part of his motivation to propose the resolution, according to the mayor pro tem,
His concerns stem from the complicated nature of any effort to move nuclear fuel to a new location, including getting approval from all the entities the waste travels through on its way to the final destination. He also spoke about the temporary aspect of the process.
“If you don’t have a longer-term plan than temporary, it might as well be permanent because as we’ve seen with the fuel at our location, once it’s at a location (and) you have that inertia, it’s hard to get the momentum moving again in the direction of transporting it somewhere else,” Duncan said.
To avoid seeming as though he was “pouring cold water” on the situation, Duncan added that he hopes the federal government’s movement is successful but wants to be realistic. Another solution he has thought of would involve the state playing a central role in identifying a location for California’s spent fuel within state limits.
His CEP colleague expressed openness to Duncan’s idea, as Victor added every credible idea should be discussed.
“I think the politics of California are difficult, but that could be a completely viable solution,” Victor said. “We should be working on that along with a lot of others.”
The professor added that an important factor within the process is communities being informed on all the possible options.
CEP leadership, including Victor, Vice-Chairperson Dan Stetson, and Secretary Martha McNicholas, were among those who answered DOE’s call for information, by sending a letter on Feb. 3.
They expressed a desire for “responsible approaches” to removing fuel from SONGS, for DOE to actively gather input from involved communities, and for the department to expand the interim program to an integrated spent fuel management program.
The letter also asked DOE to prioritize spent fuel at decommissioned or decommissioning sites, as was stipulated by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to start removing waste in 1998.
“The standard contract that governs fuel removal has flexibility regarding the ordering of fuel shipments, and putting a clearer priority on stranded fuel would help make shipping more efficient and also advance the decommissioning of such plants; the land can’t be restored for more productive uses until the spent fuel is removed,” it read.
San Clemente City Council will review and potentially vote on a new resolution at the upcoming Tuesday, March 15 meeting.
C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.