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Bills could help move stored nuclear fuel off SONGS site, but interim storage location is needed

San Diego-based attorney Mike Aguirre challenged the limitations and allowable time to speak during the Community Engagement Panel meeting on Thursday, March 24, in Oceanside. During the meeting, he urged Southern California Edison to “take responsibility” for its part in the establishment and decommissioning of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Photo: Eric Heinz
San Diego-based attorney Mike Aguirre challenged the limitations and allowable time to speak during the Community Engagement Panel meeting on Thursday, March 24, in Oceanside. During the meeting, he urged Southern California Edison to “take responsibility” for its part in the establishment and decommissioning of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Photo: Eric Heinz


By Eric Heinz

As the federal legislature works through bills that would allow for interim storage of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station’s spent nuclear fuel, local powers are urging representatives to pass the amendments.

Two bills, H.R. 3643 and S. 854, would amend the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 to allow for interim storage of high levels of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel until the Department of Energy finds a permanent solution for it. The interim storage would have to be approved by permit with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

H.R. 4745,  a tangible bill to  allow for interim spent nuclear fuel storage, recently was introduced and sent to a House Committee, but it is unknown how far the bill will progress this year.

The original plan was for the spent fuel at SONGS to be stored at facilities such as Yucca Mountain, but when that was blocked by Nevada legislators, Southern California Edison, the majority stakeholder in the nuclear plant, had to come up with a temporary solution—one that currently could keep the spent fuel onsite until 2049.

During the March 24 Community Engagement Panel meeting in Oceanside, panel members said they have been working to gather local support for the bills, which could remove the fuel off the coastal location by 2022.

The CEP was formed as an information liaison between the public and the various interests at SONGS and is not a policy-making body.

Last year the San Diego County Board of Supervisors said they wanted the fuel out of the SONGS site. The city of Oceanside has stated its support of removing the stored spent fuel, and the city of San Clemente passed a resolution to support H.B. 3643 earlier this year.

David Victor, chairman of the CEP, said he spoke with representatives in Washington, D.C., recently regarding the proposed amendment to allow for interim storage.

“There’s a huge amount of activity in the Department of Energy on this topic,” Victor said. “The Department of Energy, the office that is running (newly scheduled) meetings, is now geared up and doing what they can within the limits of federal law to help promote the citing of two or more interim storage facilities.”

One of Victor’s—as well members of the public’s—main concern is transporting the fuel out of the SONGS area. Doing it by railcar has been one of the most practical, officials said.

[box style=”rounded”]Upcoming

For more information about Community Engagement Panel meetings, visit

The Department of Energy will host a consent-based siting public meeting on April 26 in Sacramento on Holiday Inn Capitol Plaza. Acting Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy John Kotek will give a presentation during the meeting. For more information, visit

A workshop on the Wheeler North Reef off the coast of San Clemente will be held from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Monday, April 4, at the Samueli Conference Center, located at the Ocean Institute, 24200 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point. The reef is part of a mitigation agreement between the stakeholders of SONGS and the California Coastal Commission.[/box]

“The politics on this are shifting a lot, and I think a growing number of folks are starting to realize that if interim storage is presented as a complement to permanent storage facilities, you can do a political deal that will result in new federal law,” Victor said. “There are some open questions as to whether federal law is actually necessary. The idea is to create an echo chamber around … interim storage.”

Victor also said facilities in New Mexico and Texas could take the fuel as soon as 2020 to 2022, if the permitting is approved. Some of the spent fuel won’t be ready for transport until beyond that time due to the radioactive lifespan in some of the outdated storage materials.

Victor published a memo a couple days before the meeting outlining his visit in Washington, D.C. Click here to read the memo.

Public Urges Faster Removal of Spent Nuclear Fuel

During the public comment portion of the meeting, people spoke about trying to store spent nuclear fuel at an interim facility as soon as possible, but without DOE approval or legislation, it can’t be moved anywhere.

Gary Headrick of San Clemente Green said he has concerns about being “overly optimistic” regarding what can be done with the spent fuel. He said this process cannot be delayed any longer.

“If we end up in a situation where we’re delaying the process inadvertently because of the review process and CEQA and all those reviews, we’re sitting on 80-plus storage containers (with) questionable integrity,” Headrick said, referring to the Holtec International storage containers that were approved by the California Coastal Commission for interim storage last year. “If we become the default nuclear storage site, then we’re all at risk because once the cracks appear, we may never be able to move these.”

Headrick said he wanted supporters of his point to have their findings be given more credibility from the CEP.

San Diego-based attorney Mike Aguirre, who has been in litigation with SCE regarding the use of decommissioning funds collected by the utility provider, said it should be SCE that identifies and utilizes a site for permanent storage under the laws of the federal government.

“Edison should take responsibility for the nuclear waste that it produced from which it derived billions of dollars of income, like every other business,” Aguirre said. “They should have been required to obtain a license from the NRC and find the site.”

The Department of Energy is responsible for the permanent storage of spent nuclear fuel.

Environmental Law of Decommissioning

Linda Anabtawi, the SCE senior attorney for licensing and environmental law, gave a presentation during the meeting regarding the environmental impact reports and permitting required for the complete decommissioning of SONGS. The process is required by law as the structure will be significantly altered on public lands.

SCE leases the land from the U.S. Navy as well as the California State Lands Commission. The decommissioning process will have to go through the California Environmental Quality Act and the federal National Environmental Policy Act environmental impact reports. The report from the federal government could take until 2020 or longer to be completed, Anabtawi said.

“We are somewhat uniquely situated as we are … subject to California Coastal Commission regulations, and we also don’t own the land on which the plant is located,” Anabtawi said.

Part of the decommissioning includes the conduits that took in ocean water for cooling at Units 2 and 3 at SONGS, which extend more than 3,000 feet from the coast and will have to be removed.

During the environmental impact reports, there will be public comment opportunities through letters and public scope meetings that will be announced once the processes start.

“What we’ll be looking at during the EIR process is alternatives,” said Cy Oggins, the State Lands chief of environmental planning and management. “In possibly fall of 2017, the commission will review it.”

If the EIR isn’t certified, the State Lands Commission will have to “go back to the drawing board,” Oggins said.

Editor’s note: This story has been edited from its original version to reflect the correct House of Representatives bill that was sent to committee two weeks ago. 

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