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By C. Jayden Smith
Rep. Mike Levin and U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm met with Southern California Edison officials Thursday, April 21, at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) to review the decommissioned facility’s safety measures.
While there has not been tangible movement since DOE closed its request for information regarding the consent-based siting process to store the nation’s spent nuclear fuel (SNF), the government figures left assured that Edison was properly containing its radioactive waste.
After their tour concluded, Levin voiced his gratitude for the work Edison has done to safely decommission SONGS and asserted that the fuel no longer belongs near the invaluable Pacific Coast and the surrounding communities, nor on land leased from the U.S. military.
He added that nationwide efforts were necessary to address the spent nuclear fuel currently housed in roughly 80 locations across 34 states.
“The current system of spent nuclear fuel storage is not sustainable, particularly for sites that no longer have operating reactors and could be developed for other and better uses,” said Levin. “It’s also a violation of the promise codified decades ago that the federal government would take title to the waste in return for ratepayers’ contributions to the nuclear waste fund.”
Movement in terms of funding from Congress and actions by DOE, such as Granholm prioritizing the establishment of a storage location, encouraged the congressman that there is progress on the matter.
Granholm emphasized the importance of continuing to utilize nuclear energy and addressing the tension created by years of inaction in communities that continue to harbor the SNF. Those tensions have resulted in settlements costing the government a total of nearly $9 billion, she said.
Other indications of change include the development of a comprehensive plan that details the logistics of transportation and infrastructure that will make interim and permanent storage possible.
Touching on the consent-based siting process—an approach to identify storage sites by working with the nearby towns—the secretary mentioned that communities have expressed a willingness to work with DOE, though she didn’t disclose which.
“We know that housing these operations is not for everybody, but they do bring jobs, they do bring economic opportunities, and some communities find that interesting,” Granholm said. “We have a process, and we will align our goals with the needs and concerns of interested communities. We’re going to build our relationships with potential host communities on a foundation of trust from the get-go.”
The RFI received 220 responses, some of which were from members of local stakeholders such as the SONGS Task Force and SONGS Community Engagement Panel. The department’s next steps are to produce a report summarizing conclusions from the responses, produced by the Office of Nuclear Energy, and update the consent-based siting process draft, as well as forming a subcommittee on the subject comprising nationwide experts.
“There’s a lot of work ahead, but we are really eager to dive in alongside of our community partners,” said Granholm.
Levin defended his stance that a crisis regarding SNF does exist in the United States and that Edison was doing well to keep the San Onofre site safe, saying that the two concepts were not mutually exclusive.
He pointed to other sites around the country that he said were in “far worse shape” than SONGS, and also noted that the present canisters containing the waste were not intended to sit at the facility forever.
Interim storage is the first step of solving any problems related to nuclear fuel, and will make the conversation about a permanent solution easier, according to Granholm. Once an ideal location is identified, discussions of related topics such as recycling the waste can then occur.
However, such a location has yet to be determined, especially for a permanent repository.
“We know we can do the interim (site) and we know we can do that utterly safely,” she said. “We want to make sure that (regarding) permanency, (having) the exact right geology and learning from the countries that have created permanent options is a lot of the research that’s being done.”
Recycling a significant proportion of the fuel is not financially viable, nor legal, since President Jimmy Carter issued an executive order in April 1977 that indefinitely banned its reprocessing.
Granholm said that the department will have to work with Congress to reverse the ban, even as she agreed that a better use of time would involve efforts to recycle and reuse the fuel, as France and other countries do.
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.